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Youth Sports: Teaching Good Sportsmanship

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basketballSports are a great way to teach life lessons. Learning how to win and lose graciously, be a good teammate, and playing fair are just a few that come to mind. We’ve been fortunate. Our children have always had coaches who set a good example and parents who were gracious as well.

However, having three children who are very active in sports, I’ve seen some disappointing displays of sportsmanship, from players, parents and coaches. I’ve seen kids laugh at a player hurt on the field, and heard them call names at the other team. At an international tournament we went to a couple years ago, my daughter and I watched incredulously as players from a team upset by calls they received during the game and their eventual loss, actually flipped off the crowd. The age of these girls…11!

This afternoon I attended my oldest son’s basketball game. I came away from the game pretty shaken. I actually left and watched from the hallway because I could no longer listen to the parents of the opposing team. One parent had a young child sitting with him…a child that will probably be modeling his behavior at some point.

I would be absolutely ashamed if my son behaved like some of those kids did today, and I was disturbed by the fact that their coach encouraged their behavior. There were some cheap shots including shoving a player to the ground after the play. That player was ejected from the game. But what was most disturbing to me was a disrespectfulness to the referees on a level I have NEVER seen before, by both players and their coach. There were numerous technical fouls called against their players for unsportsmanlike conduct.

On the other hand, I was really proud of the way our boys conducted themselves given the situation they were in.  They completely kept their cool.

Today the parents and coach of the opposing team let their players down. They gave them a pass on their poor sportsmanship…and behaved the same way, reinforcing it. They didn’t do those kids any favors. Being a good sport is important…it’s a life lesson we all need to learn. Ultimately, as adults, as parents and coaches, we set the tone. Our young athletes learn from us, and we have a responsibility here. When parents make nasty comments about the other team or referees from the sidelines, it sets a bad example for their child. When a coach encourages unsportsmanlike conduct, he sets a bad example for his team.

What can we do as parents? The next time you see something on the court or the field that you think should have been called, or called differently, take a deep breathe and THINK it to yourself instead, rather than yelling at the kids or the referee. Be positive; don’t play the blame game. If we adults can’t keep our frustrations in check, how can we expect our children to?

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