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Health Tips for Parents

2007 Issues

How can I teach my child good sportsmanship?

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Produced by UCLA Pediatric Neighborhood Offices

Team sports offer children the chance to learn new skills, boost their self-esteem and make friends. Perhaps the most valuable life lesson they can learn is how to be a good sport and to accept defeat and victory gracefully while maintaining a positive attitude. Parents and coaches set the tone for good sportsmanship. 

According to Fred Frankel, Ph.D., professor of medical psychology at the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, young children tend to play games for enjoyment. Around third grade, children begin to develop a competitive edge. Parents and coaches should begin to encourage good sportsmanship early on to set a solid foundation well before issues arise.

What is good sportsmanship?
Good sportsmanship occurs when children, parents and coaches work together with a simple goal in mind: to make sure that children have a good time on the field, follow the rules and focus energy on improving skills. Essentially, good sportsmanship is nothing more than the Golden Rule- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A child who practices good sportsmanship on the field is likely to exhibit respect for others off the field-at home, in the classroom and amongst friends. However, in today's competitive society poor sportsmanship rears up in just about any athletic event among children of all ages. A child who exhibits poor sportsmanship plays without consideration for others. According to Dr. Frankel, this behavior can reflect what the coach or the parents on the sideline are teaching.

A good coach focuses on instruction. "Many coaches pride themselves on playing to win at all costs," Dr. Frankel observes. Children translate this message to mean it is okay to act mean or play rough to please the coach. Pay attention to the officials at a game. These individuals should enforce the rules of the game even-handedly and quickly eject argumentative parents.

Dr Frankel suggests that if parents are unhappy with a coachs style on the field, they should request a transfer off the team. Similarly, parents should report unruly behavior by another parent to league officials.

Parents lead by example
Parents can help by emphasizing to their children the importance of good sportsmanship, such as:

  • Try your hardest
  • Keep your language and actions in check if you get upset
  • Dont celebrate too much when you win

Parents then need to adopt these rules themselves and maintain a positive attitude as an example. "Often, parents view sports competitions as an arena for their child to excel above others," Dr. Frankel says. "Sometimes, however, it becomes a personal vendetta for a parent-a place to make up for any sports history with which they may have struggled." When parents pressure their children to excel, good sportsmanship may fall to the wayside. If a child is upset after a game, parents should share their perspective in private-not on the playing field. Dr. Frankel notes that studies continue to show that the ethical standards that children and teens adopt in the long term are those that were explained and displayed consistently by their parents.

When parents emphasize good sportsmanship and help their children take pride in their skills and attitude, everyone wins.

For more information on good sportsmanship and other topics of interest to parents, go to www.healthcare.ucla.edu/mattel and click on "health information".

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children's Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare website at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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