published Sunday, September 16th, 2012

First Things First: Why teaching a child sportsmanship matters

Julie Baumgardner

Fall sports are in full swing. With that comes what many coaches and referees have come to dread ... overzealous parents who have difficulty keeping their mouths and emotions under control.

What was once a rarity has become common place, so much so that many youth leagues and schools have instituted a parent code of conduct.

Consider this: There are approximately 17,000 professional athletes in the United States. With the current population around 312 million, this means your child has only a minuscule chance of ever earning money playing sports.

It might be helpful to examine why you want your children to play sports. Is it to learn how to play well with others or to learn the payoff for hard work and discipline?

Perhaps you want them to learn how to be a team player or to experience the agony of defeat and the exhilaration of an amazing comeback to win the game?

The experiences afforded to children who participate in healthy sports are great preparation for adulthood. As parents, we know that hard work and discipline are critical if you want to go anywhere in life. We also know that human beings make mistakes, and everybody loses at some point.

How people respond to not getting the job or making a mistake matters. Whatever your goals for your children, it is important for your behavior as a parent to be in sync with the lessons you want them to learn.

As you head out to cheer on your children, keep in mind that they are watching you and taking their lead from you as to what is appropriate behavior and what it not.

• Be a great role model. Take advantage of every opportunity to model good sportsmanship. Avoid being negative. Never berate your child, the coach or someone else's child for a mistake made on the field. It is humiliating and embarrassing for your child and the team. These are kids, and it is just a game.

• Avoid coaching from the sidelines. Most of the coaches are doing their best. They do not need your help from the stands. Just keep reminding yourself, "This is not a professional sports league."

• The goal is to have fun. This used to go without saying.

• There will always be a winner. Winning and losing is part of life. Teach your child how to be a good winner and a good loser.

• Avoid player-bashing. Would you want someone trashing your child? As adults, we set the tone for what is acceptable and what is not.

• There is a difference in confidence and arrogance. Confidence in action is a beautiful thing to watch. On the other hand, arrogance can rip a team apart or keep them from coming together in the first place.

• This conversation recently took place on the sidelines at a youth league football game. Father to son: "Why have you stopped playing defense? Are you not giving it your all? Is there something I missed? Did the coach tell you why you aren't playing? Why are you playing this sport?"

Son to father: "Dad, I'm playing football because I love the game, and I like making new friends. It's fun for me."

Enough said.

Email Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org

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