Parenting Solutions: Poor Sport (page 5)
Changes rules midstream; can't accept defeat; blames others, makes excuses, cries, or loses temper; criticizes others
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns the skills of good sportsmanship as well as the crucial lesson that winning isn't everything—it's how you play the game.
Question: "My eight year-old is one of the best baseball players in the league. But if his team loses he throws a fit and blames everyone else. At this rate all anyone will remember is his poor sportsmanship. What can I do to help him?"
Answer: You can start by pointing out traits of "good losers." While watching the Olympics, a quiz, or even a reality TV show, say, "There's only going to be one winner. Let's watch to see what the losers do. See—they're shaking hands with their opponents." "That was a tough competition. Did you notice how some of the kids acted who lost? They were complaining that the event wasn't fair. They sure didn't act like good sports." If possible, tune into a golf, basketball, or tennis match and point out some of the best losers (and winners) in the sports, such as Michele Wei, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Roger Federer. Then insist that your child replace his "blame game" antics with a new way to lose gracefully and display good sportsmanship, or he will not be allowed to play a game. (And if it comes to that, follow through on your word so that he learns his lesson.)
Pay Attention to This!
The National Association of Sports Officials says that it receives two to three calls a week from an umpire or referee who has been verbally abused or assaulted by a parent or spectator.73 Youth sports programs in at least 163 cities are so concerned about the trend of poor parent sportsmanship that they now require parents to sign a pledge of proper conduct while attending their kids' games. How are you and the other parents in your community behaving at sporting events?
Pay Attention to This!
Think Steroids Are Just for Teens?
A survey found that kids as young as ten (fifth graders!) are taking illegal steroids to do better in sports. And it isn't just boys who are partaking: use among tween girls is almost as prevalent as it is among boys (2.8 percent of boys and 2.6 percent of girls).74 Steroids can harm the liver, stunt growth, and cause a host of other long-term ailments. Young bodies are particularly vulnerable. Talk to your kids about the dangers of steroids. The main reason kids say they are abusing is to please their parents (who hope their kids get an athletic scholarship). Curb that tongue!
One Simple Solution
How to Lose Gracefully
Kids must learn to accept victory and defeat gracefully. These steps teach how to lose with poise:
- Look cool and poised. Turn off your upset look and put on a "good-sport" look. A poised loser is cool, calm, and collected.
- Congratulate the victor. Hold your head high, put on a smile, and walk toward the victor. In a sincere tone say, "Good game!" or "Congratulations!" or "That was impressive!"
- Shake hands. Offer your hand and shake each opponent's hand firmly. Give a high five or a pat on the back to your team members.
- Walk off the field with your head still high. Do not make any negative comments under your breath or out loud. No crying, whining, or pouting.
"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
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.
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
- 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.
"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."
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
- 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.
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.
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
Preschooler Because these little folks are so self-centered, they perceive fairness as what meets their needs. It is also why three- and four-year-olds are generally poor losers. Four- and five-year-olds play fair because adults tell them they should. "I'll throw Ken the ball because my coach says so." At this point, actual winning isn't important (unless the adults make it so); it's all about fun and getting your share of turns.
School Age Kids at this age see sportsmanship as something that should be returned. "If he's a good sport, I'll be one." Early school agers are passionate about equality and ensuring that everything is "even Steven." Eight- and nine-year-olds begin to consider the needs and feelings of their teammates and even their opponents. As competitive sports increase, kids become more focused on winning. Before age nine, most kids don't make the distinction between effort and ability. Beware: competition can be quite stressful to kids this age. Losing in front of peers can be humiliating and stressful.
Tween A true sense of justice begins to emerge, but competition can be fierce. Stress and peer pressure mount, and tweens can be quite upset with bad calls or unfair referees. They can also extend favors to teammates without expecting anything in return. Beware: by age thirteen, 70 percent of kids who play league sports never play again because it is no longer fun.76
One Parent's Answer
A mom from Houston shares:
My son always used to quit games before the end. Candyland, soccer, bowling—any game—he'd quit. He has a short attention span, but even so, he was getting the reputation of a bad sport. So I'd set an oven timer before any game for a specific play time (not too long), and I only gradually increased the time length. I told him he had to play until the buzzer went off. It worked like a charm! No more quitting midstream and a major turnaround in his sportsmanship.
More Helpful Advice
How to Win at Sports Parenting: Maximizing the Sports Experience for You and Your Child, by Jim and Janet Sundberg
Learning to Play, Playing to Learn: Games and Activities to Teach Sharing, Caring, and Compromise, by Charlie Steffens and Spencer Gorin
Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way: Ensuring the Best Experience for Your Kids in Any Sport, by Cal Ripken Jr. and Rick Wolff
The Cheers and the Tears: A Healthy Alternative to the Dark Side of Youth Sports Today, by Shane Murphy
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