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Food & Fitness

10 Tips for Raising a Good Sport

Soccer teamIn the classic “Peanuts” comic strip, woeful Charlie Brown gears up to kick the football time after time, only to find himself face down on the ground after Lucy whisks the ball away at the last minute. It’s a running joke — poor Charlie Brown never learns to hold back! But as a parent, I find it’s the hapless hero’s tormenter who captures my attention. Why is Lucy such a bad sport and — more importantly — how can we keep our kids from acting the same way? Here are 10 tips to set your kid on the path toward good sportsmanship.

  1. Explain what sportsmanship is — using kid-friendly terms. As with any behavior, the first step is to let your kids know what’s expected. Leslie Susskind, the author of “The Kids’ (and Parents’, Too!) Book of Good Sportsmanship,” describes sportsmanship as an extension of the golden rule. “It’s treating others the way you want to be treated,” she says. Simply put: if you don’t want the football moved when you kick it, don’t move it for someone else.
  2. Be a role model on the sidelines. As a spectator, your job is to be a force of positivity. Cheer on success, efforts and progress. Hand out high fives as if they were Halloween candy. Congratulate both teams on a game well played. “Kids really do take the example of the coach and the parents,” says Justin Bredeman, part-owner of and coach for Soccer Shots, a franchise organization that teaches soccer to kids between the ages of 3 and 8.
  3. Respect the coachs role. Susskind has seen well-meaning parents try to instruct from the sidelines — only to get in the way of the actual coach. Parents should “allow a coach his or her time to instruct,” she says. After all, your eyes are probably trained only on your child, but the coach is looking out for the entire team. Bredeman adds: “Kids won’t respect each other if they don’t respect the coach.”
  4. Avoid comparing kids to one another. Parents have a natural tendency to measure kids against one another, but Bredeman warns that that’s not constructive. Instead, we should focus on our kids as individuals. “Emphasize progress—not compared to the teammates, but to where [the child] started,” he says. (It’s good advice to take off the playing field too!)
  5. Dont make it all about winning and losing. Sure, trophies are cool, but the focus should be on nontangibles like learning the game, figuring out how to interact with others and — especially — just having fun.
  6. Celebrate success as a group. NFL players may do individual victory dances in the end zone after every touchdown, but that doesn’t mean your kid should too. Keep celebrations low-key and communal. Bredeman says he typically ends practice and games with a group high five.
  7. Accept loss gracefully. When your child’s team comes up short, encourage her to congratulate her opponents for a game well played. “Some of the best lessons come from losing—not winning,” says Dan Doyle, the founder of National Sportsmanship Day. Susskind agrees: kids “need to understand you can’t always win, and that’s okay. You can always come back and try again.”
  8. Present consequences for poor sportsmanship. What happens when things get ugly on the field? “The best consequence is to take a kid out of a game,” says Doyle. Or, better yet, support the coach’s decision to do so. If you need to talk to your child about his attitude, Bredeman suggests doing so after things have cooled down a bit. “Get down on [his] level,” he says. “Start with encouragement, then get into ‘We want to be nice to one another.'”
  9. Commit to having your child attend both practices and games. Life with kids is hectic no matter how you slice it, and as a result some parents allow kids to skip practice repeatedly. Not fair, says Susskind. Your child needs to understand how his or her absence affects the team. “If you make a commitment [to a team],” says Susskind, “you need to have the courtesy of being there.”
  10. Remember that your child is not you. Your having been the star of the basketball team doesn’t mean that your child will fall in love with the sport. “This is not your chance to relive a glory moment of your past,” says Susskind. “Don’t put that pressure on your child.”

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