Children's Sports: Parents Set the Tone

 By Diane Gottsman

We've all read about it in the paper - the overzealous father who punched out the soccer coach for not giving his daughter enough field time or the mother who made a scene at the basketball game when a teammate didn't pass the ball to her son. I recently attended my 9-year-old son's tennis tournament and had the unfortunate opportunity to observe a family heckling their daughter's opponent. Fortunately, a tennis official asked them to stop. (Yes, if this behavior is going on, it is your right to complain to an official.) Sadly, there is not always a team representative present to handle such situations and parents must bear the responsibility of ignoring the behavior (which is very difficult), confronting the adults (and risking an all-out war) or opting to remove their child from the situation.

1. Be a good role model for your children. Children learn by example, so show them how to practice good sportsmanship by not always expecting to win. Explain that winning will not always be an option, but that it is always appropriate to be a good sport.

2. Good sportsmanship is a side effect of having good character. Teach your children how to interact with their elders, coaches and peers with a positive attitude, one that shows respect for all involved in the game.

3. Keep your ego out of your children's game. Some parents, never having had the opportunity to play a sport (or play it well), live vicariously through their children's sports success. Stay focused on your children's best interests and get over your own high school insecurity.

4. Healthy competition is great, but make sure to emphasize other aspects of the game. Friendship, skill, exercise and good sportsmanship are major factors that contribute to a successful experience.

5. Share your feelings about the importance of good sportsmanship with other parents. Make a request, or even a pact, that parents show respect for the coach, all teammates and the opposing team. by Diane Gottsman

6. Acknowledge and praise other team members and members of the opposite team. Likewise, address and correct negative behavior immediately.

7. Mind your sideline behavior. Do not try to coach the coach, your children or other members of the team during the game. Regardless of how bad the call, refrain from yelling at the official.

8. Teach your children how to take personal responsibility for situations. If your child made a bad play, so what? Don't point fingers or pass blame on to someone else - or encourage your child to do so - to prevent your child from having a hurt ego.

9. Good sportsmanship involves sharing. Even if your child made the winning basket, teach him to include the whole team in the glory. Remind your child that it takes teamwork to win a game.

10. Turn to the news for examples. There are examples of both good and bad sportsmanship in the news. Discuss these stories with your children and use them as examples of good vs. bad sportsmanship and how it directly affects the person's character.