BEING A GOOD SPORT

News in the past of reported violent incidents at children’s sporting events must leave some parents wondering whether they want their children to be involved in sports at all.

The fact is, playing sports helps children gain regular exercise, make new friends and learn valuable social lessons about teamwork, responsibility and competition. But too much pressure by parents excessively keen on winning can create anxiety and other emotional problems.

Standing at the sidelines yelling about dropped catches, missed tackles, or the suspect familial origins of the referee or opposition players isn’t such a good role model for your children. And for some children the pressure to perform may bring tears and sore tummies on Saturday morning prior to a sporting event.

Of course it is perfectly normal to take pride in your child’s sporting activities and to enjoy watching them participate in sports. What is more important though then your child becoming good at sports is to see them become a ‘good sport.’

Children who are ‘bad sports’ can become too competitive, gloating when they win and being poor losers. They may cheat, play to win using whatever means are necessary, refuse to play if they think they cannot win, or display their temper.

It is important therefore to maintain a good balance between sports and other commitments such as family outings, play, or school work, and to encourage your child to develop good sporting behavior. This will give them a wide range of opportunities and experience and teach them about the rules of fair play and the need to control tempers or deal with frustration.

Encouraging children to develop sporting skills begins early. Try to spend time with your young toddler playing games that develop muscles and coordination such as catch, skipping, balancing games, or rolling a ball to each other. Your child will welcome the opportunity to play active games, particularly if you are positive and offer lots of encouragement for small improvements in skill.

As children grow up they may naturally begin to like a particular sporting activity. If your child expresses an interest in a sport or joining a team that their friends belong to, be prepared to let them join. Even if your child chooses a sport you are not really interested in, so long as you are comfortable that it is not too dangerous or costly, the experimentation can help your child decide for themselves what they would like to do.

Trying out a sport for a season or a reasonable amount of time should be enough for your child to make a decision. However, unless your child is obviously distressed by the experience, it is not a good idea to withdraw children from a sport once they have started the season. It can be expensive, and your child may learn that if they protest loud enough they will be exempt from activities they lack confidence in. Confidence comes with practice and persistence, not through avoidance.

Having settled on a sport, it is good idea for parents to encourage their child’s regular attendance. Go along with your child to events and training, help out with uniforms and cheer them on. Your involvement can heighten your child’s own interest.

If you notice poor sporting behavior during a game or event, wait until it is all over and tell your child what they have done wrong — “Joel, throwing your racquet into the net is being a bad sport.” Say what they should have done instead — “If you feel frustrated during a game, take deep breath and count to 10.” To reinforce this, provide your child with a negative consequence such as sitting out the next game or missing out on chatting to friends after the game, if the behavior occurs again.

Parenting Tip

You can help your child develop their own motivation for improvement by taking note of what they do well in their chosen sport. Praise your child after a game or practice session by comparing your child’s performance to their previous efforts rather than comparing them to other children. Leave the negative feedback for the coach or trainer.

 
Dr. Matthew Sanders is a clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and founder of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program.