This article was originally written by Jamie Armstrong for LDS Living.
This year, millions of children will be chasing their dreams of sports stardom across soccer and football fields, basketball courts, and baseball diamonds throughout the country. So how do you help your aspiring athlete deal graciously with the awesome thrill of victory or the harsh sting of defeat?
Three legendary LDS athletes—baseball star Dale Murphy, Olympic gold medalist Peter Vidmar, and basketball great Thurl Bailey—share their strategies for teaching their own children how to be good sports on the field and in the game of life.
More than 50 million youth participate in organized sports each year, but in a society where the games have become less about fun and more about victory, it can be incredibly challenging for parents to prevent their kids from adopting a cut-throat attitude where all they care about is the scoreboard.
So how do we convince our children (and sometimes ourselves) that winning isn’t everything?
Here are 10 tips that can help.
1. Set the Example
We’ve all heard the horror stories of overzealous moms and dads getting into screaming matches or violent brawls with coaches, referees, and spectators during their children’s sporting events. But in order for parents to teach their child to be a good sport—both as a player and as a spectator—they must first be good sports themselves.
“The best thing you can do as a parent is set a good example,” says Thurl Bailey. “Kids are going to emulate what they see, and unfortunately, parents are often the worst examples of sportsmanship when they are watching their kids play.” So if you don’t want your child to throw a tantrum, it would be wise not to berate or criticize the athletes, coaches, or referees—and this includes the games you watch from the comfort of your own home. If your child sees you screaming at the television, she may learn that this kind of behavior is acceptable in the stands and on the field. She may also worry that you’ll humiliate her by reacting the same way during one of her own games.
Sports offer many opportunities to teach your child about respecting other people, even when you don’t agree with them. But when parents lose their cool, they can rob their child of that valuable lesson—one that reaches far beyond the football field or hockey rink. In fact, experts agree that kids who act disrespectfully on the playing field are likely to behave similarly in other situations. Conversely, children who practice good sportsmanship are inclined to treat people with respect on and off the court.
2. Be Sideline Savvy
Rather than dropping off your child for the game and getting the highlights later, make an effort to watch from the sidelines. When you do, cheer for athletes on both teams whenever a good play is made. This will show your child that sports are about fun and personal growth, not just about winning. And be sure to thank the coaches and the officials after the game. This will set a good example for the other parents as well as the players.
Speaking of parents, be friendly with those supporting the opposing team; they are not the enemy. Also keep in mind that youth coaches are often volunteers. “Their time commitment to your child’s team needs to be respected and appreciated,” says Murphy. And even though the coach’s experience may be limited, Murphy says parents should think long and hard before making suggestions or criticizing the way he runs things. If you must approach him, wait at least a day and then do it privately—never in front of your child.
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