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How to Deal With Poor Sportsmanship in Kids

by Shelley Frost

The thrill of victory leaves kids feeling confident and excited, but some kids lack the skills to handle losing gracefully. Throwing a fit, yelling at the referee, blaming teammates for mistakes and trying to break the rules of the game are examples of poor sportsmanship. Those behaviors on the playing field can infiltrate your child's behavior in all areas. Stopping the negative sportsmanship early helps him learn to handle disappointments, whether it's losing the championship game or failing a test.

Talk to your child directly about positive sportsmanship. Tell him how he should act on the field. He should know that yelling at refs or saying negative things is not acceptable, but he may not realize that pouting about a bad play, bragging about a win, hogging balls during practice or not shaking hands with the other team is also poor play.

Reflect on your own attitude and behaviors, both while you're watching your young athlete and in other situations. Show him how to respect others, including refs, coaches, opposing players and teammates. For example, clap for the other team instead of booing when they score.

Reduce competitiveness at home if your family tends to emphasize being first. If your child sees the focus put on winning, he is likely to become upset when he doesn't perform well on the field. When he plays a sport, focus more on his improvement rather than whether he wins or loses.

Analyze sportsmanship of other athletes with your child. If you're watching his favorite sport on TV and a player screams at the ref, say, "That's not good sportsmanship. It's frustrating when you think the ref made a bad call, but it's never okay to scream at him like that player is doing." Point out positive examples too. Say, "Look at the way that soccer player helped up the player from the other team. He's being such a good sport."

Talk about specific examples of poor sportsmanship you see from your child. Mention in a non-accusing way that aims at helping him instead of making him feel bad. Say, "I noticed you got very frustrated when you missed that free throw. I know I get upset when something doesn't go how I wanted it to. However, throwing a fit on the court and refusing to play didn't make the situation any better. What do you think you can do next time to handle the situation better?"

Praise your child when he does show positive sportsmanship, even if it's something small. You might say, "I noticed the ref didn't blow the whistle even though the other team kicked the soccer ball out of bounds. But you didn't get mad or tell him he was wrong. I'm so proud of you for being such a good sport."

Set specific sportsmanship goals for your young athlete if he needs extra help to improve. Choose two or three of the main sportsmanship issues he has. An example is to do what the coach asks the first time instead of ignoring him, stalling or arguing. Remind your child of the goals before each practice and game.

Meet with your child's coach if you feel the sportsmanship issue is not getting better. Ask the coach for advice on how to handle the situation. Work together with the coach to improve your child's behavior on the field. If your child's coach is a parent volunteer, he may not want to overstep his bounds. If he knows that you see the problem too and want to correct it, he may get more involved in shaping your child's sportsmanship.

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