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Parenting Solutions: Poor Sport (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 31, 2010

Why Change?

"The referee sucks." "The coach should have given me another chance." "Why should I shake their hands? They're losers!" Sound familiar? One of the most humiliating parenting moments is watching your kid act like a poor sport. Oh, she may be the best player on the field, the best swimmer in the pool, or the faster runner on the track, but as soon as she starts arguing, cheating, changing the rules to suit herself, or booing, her abilities are no longer the issue. Now her character is at stake.

Playing games and sports is an important part of any child's educational and social development. Sport is like a warm-up for real life, or a metaphor for the vicissitudes of our life's journey, or … it really is real life. We have to form temporary alliances to cooperate and compete. We try to do our best and must occasionally make sacrifices in order to make the team, whether we win or not. We have to learn what works for us and what doesn't. We try to do better at working with others. We experience a tremendous range of emotions, including happiness and humiliation, success and failure, victory and defeat. So it's normal for kids to have problems coming to term with sports, and it's perfectly normal, not at all uncommon, for them to be poor sports—some from time to time, others continually, to the point where it gets to be a big problem for them, their parents, their peers, and everyone else around them. Transforming poor sports and tuning up good sportsmanship are about helping our kids play the game called life—and play it well.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Gloats when she wins
  • Makes excuses or blames others for a poor game
  • Cheats, or wins at any cost
  • Quits or gives up before the game is over
  • Displays a negative attitude: sulks, pouts
  • Changes rules midstream
  • Hoards equipment; doesn't share
  • Criticizes, calls people names, or boos other players
  • Brags or shows off
  • Argues with the coach, ump, teammates, or other team
  • Fails to congratulate the other players or does so insincerely

The Solution

Step 1. Early Intervention

  • Identify the reason your child is a poor sport. There can be many reasons for a child's being a poor sport. The checklist has a few preliminary possible reasons. What is your best guess as to why your child is a poor sport? Check those that apply to your child and situation. Once you know the answer, you can begin implementing simple solutions and parent for this change.
    • Poor role models
    • No enjoyment of the game
    • Lack of the necessary athletic skills or ability
    • Attempt to live up to unrealistic expectations
    • Overemphasis on winning and individual performance
    • Negative or competitive coach
    • Highly competitive, status-oriented teammates
    • Low self-esteem: needs acceptance and approval
    • Fear of peer humiliation and rejection
    • Attempt to impress others
    • Fear of losing or of making a mistake
    • Lack of maturity
  • Confront your own behavior. Do you make excuses for your bad playing? Blame your teammates if something goes wrong? Yell at your kid's coach? Criticize her teammates? Cheer when the opponent gets hurt? Could your kid be picking this up from you? Tune up your sportsmanship so that your kid has a healthy model of fair play to copy.
  • Challenge your expectations. Is your child developmentally mature enough for the sport? Does she have the skills to play this game or activity? Is this activity something your child really wants to do, or is it what you want for your child? Will this activity boost your child's self-esteem and love for this game? If not, find an activity or sport more in line with your child's talents, abilities, and interests.
  • Watch out for crazy coaches. Your influence on your kid is great, but teachers, coaches, and mentors also can have a lot of impact. A coach can make a big difference in your child's attitude toward playing sports and sportsmanship. So if you're ever in a position to choose your kid's instructor, be picky. A recent study on youth sports finds that at least 10 percent of athletes admit to cheating, often because their coaches encourage it.75 If you can't choose, talk to the coach about his or her competitive approach. The last thing an overly competitive kid needs is an overly competitive coach with a win-at-all-cost philosophy.
  • Reduce excessive competitiveness. Does your family emphasize "Win-win-win"? Does the coach tell your kid, "Win at any cost"? Then bring out the fun, cooperative oldies but goodies, games like musical socks, monkeyshines, soggy-Susan, and bucket-head (really). Get a copy of Unplugged Play, by Bobbi Conner, or The Cooperative Sports and Game Book, by Terry Orlick, to find ways just to have pure fun with kids without emphasizing competition and winning.
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