Teaching Kids Good Sportsmanship in Youth Sports
One of the more significant things about engaging in youth sports is that it teaches ethos, or what is known as sportsmanship. At an early age, the etiquette of sports, particularly the conformance to the spirit and rules of the game, should already be instilled in the minds of the young. Engaging in a certain sport can be a mere passing fancy for kids, but the ethos that they learn in playing the sport can be a lasting value that will have a positive impact on the development of their character and therefore the rest of their lives. Sportsmanship teaches children to aspire for the nobler things about sports—enjoying the activity for its own sake; proper consideration for ethics, fairness, sense of fellowship and respect for teammates and opponents; as well as knowing how to be a good sport when it comes to winning and losing. Above all, sportsmanship teaches kids integrity and how to be better human beings.
Key concepts in sportsmanship
In a lot of ways, sportsmanship has a lot to do with morality or doing the right thing. One of the key concepts of sportsmanship is fair play, which assures that all participants should have equal chances of pursuing victory. The opposite of fair play include cheating, bias, and prejudice, and the concept encompasses not only the players but the coaches, judges, referee, audience, sponsor, organization, parents and everyone who is directly and indirectly involved in the game. Fair play means playing the game and acting towards others in an honest, straightforward and dignified manner; this means abiding by the rules even if others are not acting fairly, as well as respecting teammates, opponents, authorities, and officials. Another core concept of sportsmanship in youth sports is what is termed as ‘character.’ This refers to the disposition, habits and values that determine how a player or person will respond to challenges, desires, opportunities, successes, and failures. Character is usually something that is developed for a long period and is rarely exhibited as a natural tendency among young players. Character can be seen in refined behaviors such as helping an opponent up or giving chance to other teammates when appropriate. Core ethical values are reflected in a player with good character. Sportsmanship also refers to virtues of courage, self-control, determination, and persistence. Moreover, sportsmanship teaches kids to act maturely and properly in cases where they fail or lose a game. Learning to deal with failure and unfavorable conditions is very important to develop fully, especially useful when they grow up and face the real world.
One way for children to adopt good sportsmanship is by seeing it in the attitudes and behavior of adults including their parents, teachers, coaches, authority figures, and older or professional athletes—especially those that they admire. Leading by example in youth sports is important to instill good values in children. If you teach children by way of instruction but act otherwise, they will only get confused and won’t take the instructions or rules seriously. Kids can be very perceptive when it comes to observing behavior in adults. They easily pick up habits and attitudes like a sponge.
It is also very helpful for kids to have good role models in professional athletes. Young professional athletes with a good track record are good role models for children. Every sport has a stellar athlete that can serve as a good role model for them. Athletes are not perfect though, and oftentimes they get mired in scandals that are highly publicized. When athletes are implicated in scandals, it can have a negative effect on the children’s minds and they may become disillusioned of their idols. When this happens, be sure to talk to the kids about what was wrong about what the athlete did and what the consequences were of his or her actions. While explaining to them that no one is perfect and people make mistakes from time to time, you should stress the importance of abiding by a moral code and that breaking that code can lead to dire and serious consequences that can tarnish their reputation, and more importantly, their integrity, for a long time.
Losing is difficult whether for a child or an adult. Dealing with failure is something that not many people learn even when they have fully grown up to be functional adults. Learning how to accept defeat at an early age is vital for developing a healthy mind, but accepting defeat should not also mean an acceptance of being a failure. Children should be taught to keep their heads up even when they lose a game. They should be taught that a lot like life, you win some and you lose some. It should also be instilled in them that losing should encourage them to actually do better next time and learn from their mistakes. Victory is also sweeter that way—when they have worked hard for it.
When players win a game, there is a natural tendency to boast or gloat about the success. Sportsmanship in youth sports teaches kids how to win gracefully and this means, shaking the hands of their opponents, refraining from name-calling and taunting the other team, and not thinking of their selves as superior just because they won a game. Ideally, sports should foster healthy competition and develop a sense of determination, focus and dedication. Winning may be the ultimate reward for all the hard work but it is not the end-all-and-be-all. After winning, there is always chance to get better and an opportunity to challenge one’s self. Ultimately, sports should be about challenging one’s self and conquering one’s fears, going an extra mile, an extra inch, an extra breath every time. They should learn that their biggest opponent is also their own self, and it is going beyond the self that make for a true sportsman or woman.
Many kids opt out of a sport or a game after being discouraged from a few losses. Some may simply accept that they are not made for sports and are not athletic. Sports should be an enjoyable activity for everyone, like how playing is enjoyable for any kind of child. As a parent or a coach, words of encouragement are always helpful for kids to get reassurance that they are worthy to play sports.
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