We have been told “Be a good sport” since we can remember.  And indeed, positive sportsmanship is an attribute that should be established early in life to help our kids be well mannered in all aspects of competition, physical or otherwise.  It is important to know where we stand on the landscape of competitiveness versus self-esteem, the battle between encouragement and pushing to a breaking point, and what values we want to instill in our children.  Out approach requires both introspective and planning and it not something we want to just “stumble into” when the time comes.

One common thread through parenting topics is to be a good example.  Our kids look up to us, they mimic us, they learn from our actions.  If we become a spectacle on the sidelines of their soccer game or in the stands of their baseball game, aside from probable embarrassment for them and our other family members, they are learning to be an obnoxious participant without boundaries or manners.  Cheering them on can be done in a constructive and controlled manner.  Aggressive or confrontational tones have no place.  Negative encouragement toward them or their opponent is simply poor form.  Our soccer league has “Silent Saturday” once a season to address just this type of environment.  It is a pleasant relief and often presents some of the best team building amongst the kids as they don’t have any adult/parental distractions.

Regardless of the example you set, ultimately your kids will begin to expand their universe of influence and may begin bad habits.  We have seen this primarily in trash talking with my youngest.  Funny that most of the trash talking seems to be focused on a virtual opponent in a Wii game, but even that can begin a bad practice (aside from being completely annoying if you are within ear shot).  This can evolve into trash talking on the soccer field or elsewhere, and needs to be stopped immediately.  We address this with a quick reminder by saying “Run your feet, not your mouth” which tends to initiate a refocus and cease the poor showing of sportsmanship.  As with most issues in parenting, we may not be able to stop this line of activity entirely but if a quick cue can jog the memory of our young ones that what they are doing is inappropriate, at least we have a tool to use in our arsenal.

So how do we take the long term approach, how do we make sure our kids maintain a level of respect and sportsmanship even when they are outside of our supervision?  Obviously good training from us is where is starts and there are various research tools online to help you inspire your young ones to improve in this area.  It is also important to help them understand the expectations of society.  Various organizations include sportsmanship in their code of conduct – look at the NCAA rules, NFL, MLB, NBA or even your local athletic association which likely has guidelines for proper behavior for athletes and spectators alike (yes, don’t forget about the siblings sitting on the sidelines, they too need to be aware and exhibit proper sportsmanship).  If you have a child that is motivated by following the rules, letting them know that rules in this area exist may be all it takes.  Otherwise, a deeper understanding that violation of these rules may take away their opportunity to participate may be required.

With Spring here there will be a plethora of opportunities to establish the characteristics of positive sportsmanship.  Outdoor activities are coming into full swing and between organized sports, playground outings and even indoor play (hopefully only on rainy days) we as parents have the chance to enable, challenge and guide our children toward a productive and well mannered approach to dealing with teammates, playmates and even opponents.  As we search for the balance between being competitive without being obnoxious, which shouldn’t be that ellusive, just remember that these lessons are for life and are establishing the building blocks that will help drive our children in their education, their career and their ability to reach their dreams and potential.  Make your efforts meaningful and effective, and have some fun in doing it.