Parenting Solutions: Poor Sport (page 3)

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

Step 2. Rapid Response

  • Define sportsmanship. Explain what you mean by "being a good sport" so that your kid understands your expectations. For example, discuss having a good attitude, being a good loser and gracious winner, respecting the final decision of any referee or umpire, and giving your maximum effort. Stress that there are different ways to show good sportsmanship, from shaking hands with an opponent or encouraging your teammate with a high five to passing the ball to someone else who has a better chance of scoring. It isn't always easy to congratulate the other team after you lose a close game, but this is exactly the kind of behavior you should explain is required.
  • Don't always let your kid win. Make sure your child has the "opportunity" to lose (translation: don't always stack the deck in her favor) so that she'll be able to practice how to do so gracefully whenever she does lose (or win).
  • Challenge the poor-sport view. If your child typically blames other people, criticizes her peers, or make excuses for her mistakes, challenge her view of the facts and help her understand why (in some cases) the loss was nobody's fault but her own. Then help her do an instant replay of the scenario in a responsible and more mature way.
  • Emphasize personal best, not results. Don't ask "Did you win?" or "How many points did you make?" Your child quickly learns that you value the result of the contest far more than how she played or what she learned. Instead guide your child to think about her progress and her personal performance by asking such questions as
  • "How did you play?"

    "How was that for you?"

    "Did you do the best you could?"

    "How did you feel doing that?"

    "What's the most important thing you learned today?"

    "Is there anything you wish you could have done differently?"

    "What will you do differently next time?"

    "Don't worry about the other kids. You can't change their performance, only yours."

  • Penalize any uncivil, aggressive behavior. If your child does display any aggressive, insulting, or rude behavior that goes over your line—such as booing, hitting, or cheating—follow through on your word and remove her ASAP from the activity. If your child's unsportsmanlike behavior is particularly egregious, let the coach know your intentions of removing her from the game. Ask the coach for support, and encourage him to "red card" your child as well.
  • Call "foul" at the first hint of poor sportsmanship. Each and every time your kid displays poor sportsmanship, take her aside to correct the action immediately (or as soon as convenient). Point out the exact behavior that concerns you: "I heard you blaming others for your mistake." "You're fighting with the referee." "You're not letting anyone else take a turn." Then make sure she understands how to correct her behavior.

Step 3. Develop Habits for Change

  • Play and lose together gracefully. Dust off the Monopoly or Clue games and hold Family Game Nights. Or set up a volleyball net or chalk up a basketball court on the driveway. Playing games together is a great way to help kids learn the rules of good sportsmanship. Model the rules of good sports as you play together: stick to the rules, make no excuses or criticism, play to the end, congratulate the winner. And if you do lose, show how to do so gracefully.
  • Identify a poor losing response. What is the typical way your child displays poor sportsmanship? For instance, does she lose her temper? Insult the other players? Argue with the coach? Change rules midstream for her advantage? Cry or complain? Quit midstream? Once you identify the exact behavior, point it out to your child and tell her what to do instead. "If you start the game, you must finish." "You must stick to the rules you agreed to." "You may not argue with the referee." Then focus on correcting that one poor-loser response.
  • Evaluate sports manners that need a tune-up. Your next step to boosting good sportsmanship is to evaluate which sports manners need a tune-up. Here are a few of the core principles of good sportsmanship to help in your assessment. How many sportsmanlike habits does your child display? Check those that apply to your child:
    • Takes the game seriously; no clowning
    • Shares materials; doesn't hoard
    • Waits her turn
    • Accepts criticism
    • Encourages peers; doesn't criticize their errors or abilities
    • Is humble: doesn't brag or show off
    • Stays positive; doesn't cheer others' mistakes or boo
    • Avoids arguments with referee, ump, coach, or other players
    • Congratulates opponents
    • Sticks to the rules; doesn't change them midstream or cheat
    • Doesn't quit midgame or leave when bored or tired or upset
    • Accepts defeat gracefully; doesn't cry, complain, or make excuses
    • Works to improve performance
  • Choose one of the principles of good sportsmanship from the list. Begin teaching it by asking your child to explain how she would use it. Rehearse the principle a few times at home and then find opportunities for your kid to use it at a scheduled sport activity. Later that day, review how things went: "How did the other kids react? What will you do next time?" Continue teaching new principles as instances come up.

  • Create consequences. Let your child know plain and simple that poor sportsmanship isn't going to be tolerated anymore. Also be clear that if she displays unsportsmanlike behavior again, she will apologize immediately (to the playgroup, scout meeting, or whatever) or leave the game. If the behavior is repeated, she should be suspended from playing for a week, month, or—if it continues—for the entire season. Your child has to recognize that she must be cooperative, respectful, openhearted, and considerate of other people's feelings, and if she is not, she simply may not participate.
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