For some kids living with disability, learning how to be a good sport can take a little extra time – and that’s okay. However, taking the time to develop the skills associated with sportsmanship can greatly benefit their development – both on and off the field.
Kids learn by observing the behaviour of the adults in their life. This means parents, coaches and support workers all play an important role in raising kids to be good sports.
Here are 7 strategies you can use to teach your kid how to be a good sport:
1. Talk about what sportsmanship is
And why it matters...
Explain to your kid that it’s okay for them to feel disappointed when they lose. However, it’s important for them to stay in control of their actions, attitudes and behaviours. Be sure to share with them that the same goes for winning and explain that everyone likes to win, but it’s important to stay humble. Discuss that winning or losing is not as important as trying their best, developing their skills, having fun and making friends with the other kids.
2. Lead by example
Role model what being a good sport looks like...
Through observation and imitation, kids develop patterns of behaviour. Therefore, it’s important that you display the behaviour you would like to see in them. You can do this by playing games together and taking the opportunity to model good sportsmanship – follow the rules, be honest, encourage others, acknowledge good plays and incorporate positive self-talk. Be sure to create opportunities for them to lose, so they can begin practising the skills they are learning.
Working with your kid to develop a pattern of positive self-talk will build their confidence and help them respond positively to disappointment.
Here are some examples of phrases you can use:
- ‘I can’t wait to practise my skills for next time’
- ‘I’m proud of myself for working hard today’
- ‘I had a lot of fun playing with you’
- ‘I thought it was awesome when you scored that goal’
It is important for you to model this behaviour outside the home also – such as on the sidelines of your kid’s sporting match or at a games night with friends – kids are always absorbing information. You could also discuss this with your kid’s therapist and request that they intentionally incorporate positive self-talk into their sessions.
3. Ask about the game
Instead of the outcome...
By asking your kid about other aspects of the game, other than the end result, you are showing them what really matters. You could ask, “Did you have fun?” “What do you think you did well at today?” or “Who did you enjoy catching up with?” Praising your kid for their hard work and self-reflection will teach them that they do not always have to win to have a successful day – this will build their confidence and self-esteem and can increase their ability to combat negative emotions that can come with losing.
4. Point out sportsmanship in others
Provide them with examples...
Pointing out sportsmanship in others can give your kid a deeper understanding of the positive effects it can have for everyone involved. Be sure to point it out in other kids, when watching professional sport on TV or in news stories. If your kid has a favourite athlete or sporting team, you could find stories of them showing sportsmanship for inspiration. If your kid doesn’t have an athlete they look up to, you could help them find one, perhaps someone who lives with disability, who demonstrates sportsmanship.
Here are examples of famous athletes who live with disability:
- Dylan Alcott – Professional Wheelchair Tennis and Basketball Player
- Matthew Cowdrey – Paralympic Swimmer
- Alix Louise Sauvage – Paralympic Wheelchair Racer
Use this as an opportunity to build your kid’s confidence and self-esteem by showing them that many people living with disability play sport and inspire others – and they can too!
It’s also important to point out examples of when sportsmanship is not shown. Discuss with them the consequences of the behaviour and give them examples of positive ways the person could have responded.
5. Respect the rules
And the people in charge...
Good sportsmanship is not only about how your kid responds to winning or losing, it’s also about respecting the rules during the game. Talk to your kid about the importance of accepting decisions, being honest and not arguing with the people in charge.
You can practise these skills at home by asking your kid to help with a task they may not think is fair – such as cleaning up a mess they didn’t make – it may not be fair but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Building ‘turn taking’ skills can increase their ability to follow rules. Playing backyard cricket with your kid is a great sport for practising turn taking – as you rotate positions, from batting to bowling, your kid is learning to follow the rules even if they would rather stay in their favourite position. Remember though, it’s important to pick your battles…playing sport is supposed to be fun!
6. Celebrate victories with others
Team work makes the dream work...
Winning gracefully is a big part of learning how to be a good sport and one way you can encourage this is by creating opportunities for your kid to celebrate their successes with others. After a victory, you could arrange a team lunch or ice-cream celebration, whilst reminding them that ‘team-work makes the dream work’. Be sure to develop a culture where all team members are congratulated equally, rather than singling out the best performers – your kid will begin to recognise that every player is important and mimic this behaviour amongst their fellow team members.
If your kid plays an independent sport, encourage them to socialise with the kids they train with or compete against – remind them that their opponent can be both their friend and their competitor. Learning how to make friends with their opponent will increase their social skills and ability to interact with other kids at school and outside the home.
7. Tailor learning to your kid’s capacity
As well as their personality...
Understanding your kid’s personality, and the behaviours associated with their disability, will help you find the most effective ways to impart sportsmanship in them. Whilst most kids will have multiple strengths, usually one will stand out the most.
Ambitious: Rather than focusing on winning the game, set goals with your kid for personal improvement, and work towards them together.
Emotional: Teach your kid how to regulate their emotions – sit down together and pick three options they can choose from when emotions are high; perhaps taking 10 deep breaths, a five-minute walk or counting down from 20.
Reactive: Discuss with them that there are consequences for all behaviour – some positive and some negative. Help them make positive choices by being clear and consistent in your response to their choices.
Imparting sportsmanship values in your kid will have a positive impact on all areas of their life and assist them with navigating difficult situations as they grow up.