Tennis phenom Cori "Coco" Gauff has quite the following as a result of her incredible tennis skills on the court.
After a recent loss at the U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka, Coco, 15, was in tears and headed to the locker room when something amazing happened. Osaka, 21, approached Coco, hugged her and asked her to join her for the interview normally reserved for the winner. Coco insisted that she shouldn't because she would cry. Osaka responded, "No, you're good. Look, you are amazing."
Coco responded that it was fine, that she would cry, to which Osaka said, "I think it's better than going into the showers and crying. You have to let people know how you feel."
Coco ended up joining her in spite of the tears. When Osaka spoke, she addressed Coco's parents, telling them that they raised an amazing player. She said she recalled seeing them in the same training facility and that she thought it was really incredible that both of them had made it this far, again reiterating that she thought Coco was amazing. All of this came from the No. 1 female tennis player in the world.
A winner graciously sharing the limelight with her opponent was a powerful moment on so many levels.
With a new season of sports upon us, perhaps parents and players alike could follow Osaka's lead: playing hard, leaving it all on the court or the field and practicing humility whether you are the winner or not.
As parents, you can encourage great sportsmanship by intentionally teaching them what it looks like. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
* Bring your best to the game by being as prepared as possible and giving it your all.
* Discuss what being a gracious winner looks like and how to accept loss without being a sore loser.
* Talk about what good sportsmanship looks like during the game - playing clean and fair, helping opposing team members up, not bullying, and shaking hands at the end of the game regardless of whether you win or lose.
* Avoid letting others' behavior dictate how you behave.
* Teach your child to learn from their mistakes versus sulking.
* Discuss the importance of following instructions.
* Talk about what it means to be a team player, even if you are the best player on the team.
It is so easy as parents to get caught up in the game. However, it is important to remember that your kids either follow your lead or are dying from embarrassment because you are that parent. Consider these things as you sit on the sidelines:
* They have a coach. Let their coach do his/her job.
* Avoid arguing with the coaches or referees.
* Be respectful of the other team regardless of their ability.
* Keep your perspective. Regardless of the sport you are watching, these are kids, and even the college students, are still in their teens. Most of them will not go on to play professional sports. They play for the love of the sport.
Someone once said, "Sports don't build character; they reveal it." Osaka's gracious behavior was not a fluke. It is something she was taught over time and has exemplified on more than one occasion. Although Osaka was the winner, she left her opponent feeling good about herself. That's the sign of someone who has their ego in check and understands the impact of their behavior on others. Modeling great sportsmanship and character will teach your child skills they can use on and off the field.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.