Rules of the Game

How to Teach Kids the Positive Rules of the Game

As young athletes across the country and around the world tune in to watch their sports idols go for the Gold at the Olympic Games, it’s a great time to do some training on sportsmanship.

Here are my Top 10 Tips to foster a winning attitude on the field and off:

  1. Win or Lose: Take the pressure off the outcome by focusing on your child’s effort and improvement, like extra practice or strong teamwork, instead of the final score. Connect wins or losses to specific behaviors by asking, “What did your team (or you) do that contributed to the win?” or, “What could your team (or you) do differently next time?”
  2. Practice Sportsmanship: Deliberately train your kids on winning and losing gracefully, and good sports character. Try playing cooperative board games that get your kids encouraging each other, then when they’re ready, move to competitive games. For the younger set, favorite stuffed animals can also step in to demonstrate sore losers, gloating, and the rest.
  3. Disguise Lessons Through Family Fun: TV shows and movies can be great teaching moments and a fun way to demonstrate important life lessons. Sports titles on Netflix, such as The Short Game, A Mile In His Shoes or The Kid help extend the conversation about good sportsmanship.
  4. Put the Work into Teamwork: “There’s no I in team” is a valuable lesson on the field and off. Coach your kids on ways to encourage frustrated teammates, play to each other’s strengths and stick together, and you’ll prepare your child for wins far into the future. Make it a goal to encourage each player on your child’s team from the sidelines every game—your child will notice.
  5. Let Your Kids Step Up to the Plate: If ten-year-old Paige feels shorted on playing time, resist the urge to step in. Instead, ask, “What can you do to earn more playing time?” Role-play how to bring it up with the coach, and then leave the responsibility in her hands.
  6. Play the No-blame Game: Institute a no-blame, no-excuses policy for your kids. If 13-year-old Daniel grumbles about a bad call, remind him that like players, referees come with varying skill. Then, since he can’t control the referee or even his teammates, get him thinking about what else he can do to influence the outcome of the game.
  7. Call No Fouls: Even if the other team is hurling insults, keep your comments to yourself—and encourage your kids to do the same. Teach your kids not to “trash talk;” their performance on the field will speak for itself. And of course, follow the “Act like you’ve been there before” guideline of being courteous and gracious to your opponent when your team wins.
  8. Roll with the Punches: Turn each missed goal, slip-up or foul into a learning opportunity for next time. If your child is upset about missing a tackle, ask, “If you could do that play over again, what would you do differently?” and then move on—your child already feels bad enough and is relying on you to help him make the best of his mistake.
  9. Let the Coach Coach: Shouting suggestions from the sidelines is not only not helpful, it leads kids to disrespect their coach. Let the coach do her job, and the whole team will benefit.
  10. Be the Example. You can talk about good sportsmanship, but your kids will clue in on your actions. Model all the behaviors you’re teaching your kids, whether you’re on the couch, on the sidelines or on the basketball court yourself. And above all – keep it fun! Kids love to keep score, but make sure they’re doing it because they want to, and not because they feel pressure from you.


About the Author

Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic – A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.