When Your Child's Team Loses, Teach Sportsmanship and Character - Hope 103.2

When Your Child’s Team Loses, Teach Sportsmanship and Character

A mindset of ‘win at all costs’ won’t help kids to enjoy sport. Instead, teach them about sportsmanship, kindness, and doing their best.

By Clare BruceMonday 1 Oct 2018Hope MorningsParentingReading Time: 3 minutes

With football grand finals dominating the news, and another season of local sports coming to an end, many children are hyper-aware right now of the values of winning and losing.

But a mindset of ‘win at all costs’ is not a healthy one, and won’t help kids to enjoy sport or grow in maturity. Instead, parents of sports-playing kids should aim to teach values like sportsmanship, fairness, kindness, and doing their best, says child psychologist Collett Smart.

Failure Builds Character

Young girl soccer player sad

Chatting to Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe, Collett said winning is definitely not the only way to enjoy sport, and it shouldn’t be a child’s (or a parent’s) only goal.

As a parent of young sport players herself, Collett goes through the ups and downs of team sports each season, and is well aware how hard kids sometimes take it when they lose. But losing is an opportunity to grow in maturity, she says: “None of us like to lose. You feel inadequate. I wonder if it’s because we’re so conditioned to look at losing in a sport as a failure of yourself.”

Instead of viewing a loss of a game as a failure, Collett says parents should look for ways to help their children grow through the experience.

“Failure is an opportunity to learn… I don’t think any child jumps for joy when it happens but I think we can model that it’s through failure that our children build character, not necessarily through their successes,” she said.

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Practical Ways to Encourage the Losing Team

Boys soccer team and their coach at training

Most local competitions have a team that stays near the bottom of the ladder all season. For parents whose child is on ‘that’ team, Collett urges parents not to get upset on their child’s behalf: “Don’t shout and get demoralized and hyper-competitive yourself, blaming other players and dwelling on the loss.”

Coaches and parents can help children see the positives and learn sportsmanship, with the following steps:

  • Instil sportsmanship skills such as kindness towards the opposition.
  • Teach the kids to shake the hands of the winning team.
  • Look for ways the team has improved in each game.
  • Talk about the comradery the children have shown towards each other.
  • Point out skills your child has improved in: throwing, catching, dribbling or tackling.
  • Highlight teamwork and values such as helping one another.
  • Ask your child think about how their team mates went well, to take the spotlight off themselves.
  • Focus on effort and small victories.

Develop a Culture of Unconditional Enjoyment

Teenage girls football team walking onto the field

It’s almost instinctive in Australian culture to praise wins, mourn losses, and conduct a post-mortem of every game. But kids can develop more enjoyment of their sport if parents simply encourage their child each weekend, telling them how much they enjoy watching them play, says Collett.

She’s noticing the difference this tactic has made in her own family: “I feel like it’s changed the conversations in the car on the way home,” she said, “by not commenting on their skills specifically, but really saying just that ‘I love being there’.”

When your child has not played well, and is feeling upset, don’t smother them.

“Emotions are very high with the adrenaline straight after a game,” Collett says. “Sit in the quiet, let them process, let them be disappointed if they feel that way. Just give them space. Wait a while after the game before you talk about it. Even if you sit quietly in the car listening to music or in silence.

“Wait until the emotions are settled and talk to them later that afternoon or the next day, just about sportsmanship…how you treat others. And during the season, point out to your child when you notice other people showing sportsmanship.”

Team Sport a Training Ground for Life

The greatest benefits of childrens’ sport aren’t the throwing, catching or goal-scoring skills they learn, but the values they gain for life.

They learn to be part of something bigger than themselves, to work well with others, to persevere when the going gets tough, to be kind and encouraging, and to manage their frustrations. They also form new friendships and develop social skills.

When these kinds of values are the focus of your child’s sport playing, winning and losing become just a little less overwhelming.