Playing sports is second nature to kids in Oklahoma. Because my husband is a former high school/middle school coach, sporting events always remind me of the great need for parents to model good behavior for their kids. Our kids learn behavior – good and bad – from us. And it’s not just what we say but what we do that counts. Consider the questions below.

What’s the problem with focusing on wins? Putting too much importance on winning can lead to a “win at all costs” mentality. It’s what leads to forged birth certificates being used so an older, more skilled kid can join a team; to violence against officials after a call that doesn’t go a team’s way.  Rather than focusing on winning, which may lead kids, parents or coaches to make moral compromises, teach kids to strive for excellence.  Growth and improvement then become the measures for success.   When you’re striving for true excellence, there’s no room for cheating.

So too much of a focus on winning can lead to bad sportsmanship? It can – but so too can the examples parents and coaches make. Kids do as they see more than they do as they’re told. If you’re screaming at a referee during a game, your kid is likely to argue with a referee, his teammates or others. If you call the coach an idiot and use foul language, your kid isn’t going to show the coach any respect either.

Another issue is kids not knowing how to be graceful losers. Letting your child win every time you play a game doesn’t help him. Rather, it can make him feel entitled later in life. Share strategies for winning with your child, but let him lose.  If he pouts or throws a fit, then stop/put away the game and correct the behavior. It’s OK to be disappointed when you lose, but it’s not OK to shout or be disrespectful, to throw things or exhibit other unsportsmanlike behavior. These lessons start in the home, and they start early.

What are some other concrete things parents can do?

  • Don’t expect your kids to have the same abilities that you had/have.   Accept your daughter’s abilities and interests for what they are, not for what yours were or what you want hers to be.
  • Be involved in your child’s organized activities. That way, if you see a demonstration of very good or very bad sportsmanship, you can address it.
  • Model good behavior as a fan – don’t talk about the idiot referees or how the other team just got lucky.
  • Cheer for winners and for good plays that go both for and against your team.
  • If a player on another team is hurt, show compassion and concern.