How parents can change child's "poor sport" attitude

By Debbie Glasser Schenck

Many parents enroll their children in organized sports to promote important life lessons. Learning new skills, cooperating with others, following rules, and enjoying physical activity are just some of the benefits children can receive from participating in organized sports.

Certainly, there are times when children focus more on the outcome of the game than the process. The truth is that games do have scores and team standings and children enjoy the pride and excitement that accompanies a championship season. However, when you observe your child losing sight of the joys of the game and becoming angry or frustrated because of the outcome, there are things you can do to help.

Talk to the coach about his or her goals for the children. Share your desire for your son to develop a love of the game and an appreciation for being a "team player." Ensure that you and your coach have consistent philosophies about the goals of organized sports for your child.

Pay careful attention to your own behavior at your son's practices and games Demonstrate a positive and encouraging attitude toward all the players. Expressions like, "great try!" and "It seems like you're having fun" will help keep the focus on the experience of playing rather than whether a goal was scored.

Model good sportsmanship off the field as well. Playing board games with your child can proved wonderful lessons about experiencing wins and losses. Whether you win or lose, acknowledge your child's great efforts and talk about how much you enjoyed the experience of playing with him.

Find opportunities to talk to your child about aspects of the game other than team scores and standings. For example, notice a new skill that he has learned during practice. Ask about new friendships he has developed as a result of being on the team. Talk about what are the best and worst parts of being part of a team. What does your child feel is enjoyable about the experience? What is difficult?

Of course, when your son misses an important shot or his team loses, he feels frustrated. Acknowledge these feelings. You can let him know that you understand how disappointing it can be to lose a game after trying so hard. Remind him that he gave his best efforts as did his teammates. And, sometimes, despite our best efforts, we don't always win.

It is important to remember that not all children enjoy participating in organized sports. Carefully evaluate your goals for your child and read his cues. You may decide that other activities are better suited for him.

With encouragement, reflective listening and positive role models, children can learn important lessons about being a good sport both on and off the field.

Debbie Glasser Schenck, Ph.D., is the director of Fanily Support Services at Nova Southeastern University.