Teaching Kids Sportsmanship

Let's face it; we live in a pretty competitive world. Because of that, children may not understand the importance of sportsmanship when involved in competition.

Winning can easily become the sole focus of a game, so children may not think much about the importance of good sportsmanship. Parents and coaches can do their part to help teach sportsmanship to children of all ages.


What is sportsmanship?

Sportsmanship is the ability to be respectful, no matter who the child is dealing with or the outcome of the situation. Whether the child is dealing with coaches, teammates, game officials or members of the opposing team, a child needs to understand the importance of sportsmanship. Win or lose, a child should practice good sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship is best taught by observing other adults behaving with a sense of dignity. For children to learn sportsmanship, adults need to first understand and demonstrate it. This includes both parents and coaches.

For some children, sportsmanship may come naturally but for others it requires more effort. However, those who learn how to demonstrate it will benefit in many ways.
Benefits of Sportsmanship

There are many benefits to children learning sportsmanship. Children who don't know how to behave respectfully during a sport or game will likely carry that on into other areas. Children who taunt other children in a game will likely act the same way in other situations.

Bullying can be a serious issue, so if children don't learn how to respect others in sports, they may not be able to in other social situations. Conversely, children who learn good sportsmanship will likely demonstrate respect in other areas of their lives, such as at home and in the classroom.


Another benefit to sportsmanship is that children learn how to enjoy the game. If the focus is solely on winning, then the fun of the game is taken away. Too often children forget that the goal may be to win but the way to get there is through having fun. Enjoyment is quickly taken away when sportsmanship is lacking.

Children will sometimes find their value wrapped up in their performance. If they understand that win or lose, they are still valuable; they will have greater confidence and self-esteem. Children who learn sportsmanship are better able to take pride in what they have accomplished. They realize the importance of improving and honing their skills, rather than trying to win at all costs.
Even when a child loses a game, sportsmanship can teach them to appreciate their contribution to the game. If a child feels they need to work on something, this is the time to offer encouragement and the chance to practice any skills that may need some work.

Simple Ways for Children to Demonstrate Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship can be demonstrated in simple, small ways such as shaking hands with an opposing team both before and after a game. Offering a word of congratulations also goes a long way.


Sportsmanship can also be demonstrated in deeper ways that affect an individual's character. Being able to gracefully accept a bad call or the loss of a game are some of the ways that character is formed. When a child can learn to balance the more challenging aspects of sports along with the enjoyable parts of the game, they learn to keep things in proper perspective.

How Parents Can Lead by Example

Parents can demonstrate sportsmanship through their behavior on the sidelines. If a parent is not the coach, they should not be shouting instructions. Leave that to the actual coach. Parents should also not be shouting out unkind or critical words, especially directed at other children playing the game. This is the time to be encouraging, no matter what the situation. No win is worth degrading a child.

Parents who are coaches have to be especially careful that they are not demonstrating favoritism or putting too much pressure on their child. Children whose parents are coaches need to be treated the same as any other child on the team.
Many times, parents will express their frustration with other coaches, game officials or players. Any real and serious concerns should be addressed at a more appropriate time. Sportsmanship is about always treating others with respect.

Parents can also look to other examples when watching sports on television with their children. Point out both positive and negative sportsmanship and have a discussion about it. Many times, children who see poor sportsmanship demonstrated in sports on television will see how unattractive it is.


Another way that sportsmanship is demonstrated is by pointing out good plays or moves by the opposing team. Although winning is part of a game, it is not the only part. It is also about recognizing a player's skills and abilities, even when they are on the opposite team.

Actions may speak louder than words but words still carry a great deal of weight. Words like, "Good job!" "Nice catch!" "Great try!" make a positive impact. Of course, your actions will also demonstrate sportsmanship. If you are throwing your hands up in the air, stomping your feet or shaking your head you are not demonstrating good sportsmanship.
What Bad Sportsmanship Looks Like

Understanding what bad sportsmanship looks like may help both coaches and parents. Bad sportsmanship is when:

  • A player or team cheats in order to win;
  • Players, coaches or parents lose their temper;
  • Negative, unkind or critical words are used against coaches, players, and game officials;{relatedarticles}
  • Players are blamed for losses or poor performance;
  • Opposing players are taunted or ridiculed;
  • Coaches or parents argue with the game official's calls and decisions; and
  • Refusal to congratulate the other team for winning.

All of these examples demonstrate an inability to be a team player. Team players learn how to deal with the good and bad in sports and develop relationships based on respect that help them later in life.

Win or lose, sportsmanship will help your children realize that what is most important is learning new skills, making new friends and learning how to handle challenges.