My 8-year-old, Rachel, didn’t seem to mind her basketball team’s losing streak. That was, until her ragtag group ousted the only undefeated team in the community league. By one point. In overtime. And she made the final shot. But Rachel’s victory dance was cut short by the realization that her happiness might have looked like gloating to her best friend, who was on the opposing team and left the court near tears.
The experience opened the door for Rachel and me to talk about winning gracefully and what it means to be a good sport. As your child dives into the word of competitive sports, she’s bound to come up against some touch situations. Here’s how to encourage her to play clean, win without boasting, and lose without resentment, and more.
Child’s gripe: “Our team never wins.”
Parent’s point: “I know it’s hard when you lose. But did you try your best and play hard? then to me, you’re a winner.”
Lesson learned: It’s natural for your child to want to win, and for her to be disappointed when she loses. By helping her notice her effort–regardless of the outcome–he’ll realize that how he plays the game is more important than its final score. ” I try to focus my kids on the [playing] process,” says Mark Mallon, who’s coached youth for 20 years as director of The Soccer Institute, a training center near Cleveland. ” If you focus only on the results, you’re teaching them just to play for the game to be over.”
Child’s gripe: “My coach doesn’t let me play enough.”
Parents point:“Your coach is probably trying to give everyone a chance. But you can make sure she knows you’re ready when she needs you by paying attention during practices and games, and by asking if there are certain skills she’d like you to work on.”
Lesson learned: By meeting her coach’s expectations or addressing her coach’s concerns, your child will start problem solving for herself. She might nee to show the coach that she’s trying to improve her skills, or–if she’s been goofing around during practice or games–that she’s serious about playing. (And sometimes, the lack of pay could just be in her head: In many recreation leagues, coaches have to rotate players to ensure everyone gets a chance on the court or field.)
Child’s gripe: “He’s not a good player. If he wasn’t on our team, we’d win more games.”
Parent’s point: “Everyone on the team is there to try to get better–including him and you. Hey, maybe you can offer to help him do drills sometimes?”
Lesson Learned: When your child concentrates solely on winning, he ignores the needs and feelings of other players. “Part of being a good sport means looking for ways to build up teammates, which teaches your child empathy and strengthens the team as a whole,” says Lori J. Warner, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Berkley, Michigan.
Child’s gripe: “They were so easy to beat!”
Parent’s point: “That’s great that your team won. but the other team did a great job too, didn’t they?”
Lesson learned: Being a gracious victor who treats the losing team with respect is a bigger part of being a winner than what the scoreboard says. If you stick with this message, your kid might be the first one in line to shake hands with the opposing team, win or lose. Wouldn’t that sight be a victory?