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With the upcoming Superbowl and Winter Olympics approaching now is a great time for parents to talk to their kids about sportsmanship. We all know that “sharing is caring,” but how does that translate onto the playing field? The truth is that good sportsmanship begins before a child ever joins a team or a league. Here are KV’s tips for fostering good sportsmanship:

1) Talk About Their Feelings – This can be a tough one, especially with young children or with boys who still have to struggle with a society’s outdated notion of what it means to “be a man,” but it’s a crucial one. If a child is frustrated or upset with the outcome of a game or their performance it’s important to acknowledge their feelings. Simply asking them, “How are you feeling” or “Why are you upset” can open the necessary dialogue for a child to express themselves and for parents to dissuade a child’s negative feelings of themselves or others and potentially come up with solutions, like more practice time for example.

2) Emphasize Skills Over Scores – Sports offer a wide range of benefits for kids from making new friends, to active play, to teamwork and learning new skills, however at the end of the day the only question most kids hear is, “Did you win?” Instead ask “How did you play,” and encourage friends and family to do the same. Talk about the number of catches they made or the number or yards run or something they can do now that they couldn’t do at the start of the season. By taking the focus off winning you’re teaching them that hard work is more valued than an end of season trophy.

3) Watch What You Say – We all know that little ears have the uncanny ability to pick up anything that is remotely said around them (how many of us have that special “Little Sally said…” parent/teacher conference) so it’s important that we make sure we are modeling good sportsmanship for our kids. This means not talking negatively about other children on the team, on rival teams, any of the other parents or your child’s coach. Instead keep your words positive. Praise other kids, regardless of whose team they’re on, for good plays and encourage your child to do the same.

4) You Can’t Control Everything – This one that gets overlooked a lot in articles on the benefits of sports, but I think it’s the greatest lesson that sports provide. Adults know that ups and downs are just par for the course in life, but kids still struggle with the idea that loss = personal failure. Sports are a great way for kids to understand that there will always be wins and there will always be losses. The important thing is to accept both as they come and move forward.

5) Remember It’s Just a Game – This one seems so basic it’s almost a cliché. However parents and kids alike can get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the excitement of game so it’s important to take a step back from time to time and remind them (and yourself) that yes this Friday’s softball game is a big one, but it probably won’t drastically alter the course of a second grader’s life.