Being a parent is a hard job. It maybe is even the hardest job there is. Nobody teaches you how to be a great parent and there is no objectively correct way to parenting. You are moreover responsible for the life of another human. It is crazy and I bow to all parents.

You have a lot of responsibilities from teaching kids not to sh*t themselves to teaching them about manners and much more.

One responsibility that is often overlooked in the context of sports is to teach sportsmanship to your kid. Sure, winning is nice and everybody prefers it over losing. Instead of pushing your kids to win everytime, you should instead push them to sportsmanlike behavior in my opinion. This will result in a few losses and a lot of discussions with your kids why other kids cheat and your kid is not allowed to.

A small child on the playing field wearing catcher's gear. His statue is upright and it seems like he was taught about sportsmanship.

“But John is also cheating in important moments. Why am I not allowed to cheat?”

Trust me, you will have this discussion with your offsprings, if you decide to teach them about sportsmanship. But life is about so much more than just winning and losing. Real greatness shows in the way people handle losses and come back stronger. As a loving parent, this is what you should want for your kid. You should want for your child to be strong, fair and able to take losses with grace and come back from them.

This will not only form your kid’s character on the field, but also for his whole life and in every other aspect of life. Be it in school, college, love or work. The lessons from good sportsmanship will help in every situation.

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What is sportsmanship?

Sadly there is no clear cut definition for something so important as sportsmanship. Sportsmanship has many different nuances and contains many different values.

Take a few minutes and watch this video. It is a compilation of great sportsmanship moments in the MLB. You will see all the different facets sportsmanship has.

Great sportsmanship can be shown by complementing your opponent for a great play, not arguing with umpires and standing up for fairplay, even if that means a disadvantage for your or your team.

I think Mickey Mantle said something really fitting in regards to sportsmanship, which is why I want to share this quote with you.

“After I hit a home run I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases.”

This quote shows, that respect for your opponent plays a major role.

Why does it matter?

One could totally argue, why good sportsmanship matters, if sports is only about winning and losing. There are literally millions of quotes out there, that proof that. Lots of professional athletes are known to have said something like

“It is not about winning or losing – said every loser ever”

I think this is a difficult topic to have such a simple opinion on. Moreover I think we a amateur players should not necessarily listen to professional players in this regard. There is so much more at stake, if you play for millions and a lot of prestige and your life depends on your performance on the field.

I do not want to make this an excuse for showing unsportsmanlike behavior, but I can see where quotes like the one above come from.

I think sport has an educational purpose. It builds and it reveals character. Given that most kids start playing sports before they are really able to grasp concepts of respect and especially before you as a parent can talk to them about it, I think sport is the way to teach them vital principles of our society.

Good sportsmanship will be a foundation your children’s character will develop upon. It will teach your kids behavioral patterns, that will be important in their later lives. Being a respectful person is never out of fashion.

The same thing holds true for bad sportsmanship sadly.

What is your role as a parent?

It is your role as a parent to help your kids practice good sportsmanship and by this form his character.

You need to be the one to teach your kids about good sportsmanship and show them examples. You need to be the one to congratulate them on their behavior, even if it led to a loss. Teach them that winning is important, but being a respectful player with good sportsmanship is more important.

If you pressure your kids to win all the time and maybe even punish them for losses by ignoring them or not showing any love, they will start to link their self-worth to something they do not have 100% under control. This is a recipe for disaster, especially later in life.

On the other hand, your kids will always have complete control over their behavior and if they are fair players. Teach them to link their self-worth to their actions and not some random outcome like a win or a loss. Helping them to feel proud of themselves regardless of the outcome of a match will help them form a strong character. This will be beneficial in every aspect of their later life.  

How do you teach your kids good sportsmanship?

I sadly cannot give you a step by step instruction here, as there are so many aspects to good sportsmanship.

This picture show a coach telling a little child about sportsmanship. This is what baseball in younger years should be about!

Nevertheless there are of course some things you can do to teach your kids good sportsmanship. Check the following list for some guidance.

Do not focus on winning or losing: As I have already stated above, you should not focus on winning or losing as a parent. Be proud of your kids if they have shown effort and good behavior. This is more important than a win at some unimportant match.

Check your own behavior: Kids are known to mirror their parents. It is crucial that you control your own behavior. You cannot expect your kids to show good sportsmanship, if you yourself discuss with the umpires all the time or speak poor of other players. Instead you should make sure to congratulate the opponents for good plays and also congratulate the other team after a win. Carry yourself with respect and be an idol to your kids. They will start mirroring your behavior, whether it is good or bad.

Stop excuses: I feel like this is a real disease of our time. Everybody tries to find excuses and blame someone else. Try to immediately stop this behavior with your kids. Instead teach them to own it if something goes wrong. Apologize if it is necessary. Try to learn something from your mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, it is human nature. There is nothing bad about it. Just try to learn something from it.

Play the game in a fair way: This is all about reputation. Nobody will believe anything your kids say in real life, if they are known for cheating during their matches. Cheating is not only unfair, but it can also do a lot of harm to your children’s social life. Nobody want the be associated with the cheater. Teach your kids to be fair. It will help them a lot in life.

Have fun: Sports is about much more than just winning and losing. You get to meet new people, find new friends, be outside, do something great for your body. Educate your kids about these things instead of pushing them to pay close attention to the score all the time.

Challenges can be overcome with hard work: This is one of the most important aspects in my opinion that you need to educate your kids about. There are a lot of studies that show that kids who connect their self-worth to end results are scared of challenges. They see them as an opportunity to fail, which would destroy their self-image and self-worth.

Kids who instead focus on hard work and effort see challenges as something positive and something they can handle. Even if they do not achieve the end result they wish for, it will not shatter their self-image if they tried their best.

Just imagine how badly your kids will handle any sort of challenge in their later life, if they just focus on the end result.

The problem is that we cannot always control the end result of something. We cannot control if our relationship with our significant other works out. We can only do our very best and put in a lot of effort. The same holds true for many other situations in life. Better teach your kids to focus on effort than on end results as soon as possible.

I hope you now understand why good sportsmanship plays such a major role. It not only influences your kids’ reputation among its peers, but is also crucial for its character. Good sportsmanship teaches not only about things that are important on the field, but important in life. It will help your children when they face challenges of any sort later in life and it will build their character.

It is your responsibility as a parent to teach your kids about good sportsmanship from a young age. They might not understand it from the get-go and it will most likely lead to some arguments and maybe even some losses, but in the end you are helping your kids grow and you prepare them for their later life.

I tried my very best to help you with this article. Feel free to comment if you feel like there is something missing.

Get home safe,


2 replies on “A guide to teaching sportsmanship to your kids”

  1. Jan, thanks for a thoughtful article on the most important part of sports — sportsmanship. You made some good points about just what it is, why it is key and how to achieve it. I’m working on a project concerning the value of sports to society and it definitely is not measured in dollars. May I quote from your piece?

    1. Cheers John!

      Thanks for your comment! Keep me posted about how your project is coming along.

      And of course, feel free to quote my post. I feel honored about it. 🙂

      Have a good day!

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