Don’t Be a Poor Sport

Problem: My 10 year old son is a poor sport when he loses at soccer or tennis, his two favorite sports. After losing a game or tennis match, he yells at his teammates, throws his racket on the ground and pouts for hours. My husband and I want to help him learn good sportsmanship before he gets any older. Please give us some tips.

No parent should allow their 10 year old child to act out in these ways. This issue must be addressed rigorously, with you and your husband enforcing and expecting good sportsmanship from your son, at all times.

Good sportsmanship is necessary to confront because throughout life children of all ages have to learn to accept and tolerate losing—a job – a game – a non-passing grade on a paper – someone doing better than them — making more money–having more things. Sportsmanship lessons and strategies learned during childhood will provide children with the tools they need to deal with life’s challenges.

All parents want their child to try his best in every situation, never give up, practice hard, and accept any outcome with grace. Parents have a strong stake in their child’s sense of sportsmanship. They believe their child’s behavior reflects on them, and if he’s a poor sport, they’re not only disappointed and angry, but embarrassed.

Strategies: Learning good sportsmanship habits at a young age is essential and a 10 year old is old enough to be aware of his poor sportsmanship – and to change his ways. Try these tips and keep your message firm and consistent:

Do understand that most poor sports are aware of being out of control and would like to change their behavior. They just don’t always know how to handle difficult situations. Kids need help, support and guidance from their parents when they make a mistake or lose a competition. “I know it’s hard when you’ve lost a match, but you need to control your anger.”

Don’t underestimate the connection between poor sportsmanship and low self-esteem. A child who lacks confidence and feels inferior when he loses, may need his self-worth pumped up. Think of ways to increase his sense of competency so that he doesn’t take losing so hard. Spend more time with him, have fun together, encourage him in all his school work and activities.

Do set firm limits on your child’s displays of poor sportsmanship. “ You may not demean or criticize another athlete or coach.” If he insults someone, have him apologize and talk to him about manners and respect. Discuss how other people – friends, famous competitors, acquaintances – react to success and adversity. Let him know that it’s also important to be a good winner, one who is gracious rather than cocky.

Don’t over emphasize winning or say, “I hope you beat this kid because I hate the way he plays and I can’t stand his father.” And don’t let your child think that you’re impossible to please: “You’re not trying hard enough.” “Too bad you came in second.”

Do talk to coaches about helping your child become a better sport. Suggest they hold a team meeting on the values and characteristics of good sportsmanship. Look for books or articles on the subject to share with your child. Make sure your child doesn’t have unreasonable expectations for himself.

Don’t forget to remind him about his behavior before he enters a competition: “You look better when you show control.” “Have fun.” “No yelling or cursing.” Remind him of consequences: “If you can’t control your emotions, you’re tennis racquet will be taken away.”

Do praise signs of good sportsmanship. “You really handled yourself well after losing.” Genuinely say, “Good try.” “You played well.” At times, reward him with a pack of baseball cards, a note, or a treat.

Bottom Line: Defeat and mistakes in life are inevitable. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to teach your child how you expect him to handle himself when he loses, not only in sports, but in life — a school election, a starring role in a play, being first in line, getting his art displayed. Don’t forget: children learn best by example. Therefore, be mindful of how you react when things don’t go your way at work, at home, on the road, during leisure time, when your child loses. And, don’t let the act of winning or losing affect your love and acceptance of your child in any way – ever!

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