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10 Ways to Raise a Good Sport

Encouraging kids to become members of a team can help them constructively channel their energy and creativity while learning about sportsmanship first-hand. Kids can learn new things about themselves through participation in teams of many stripes: sports, leadership, performing arts, robotics, debates, etc. Teams that uphold positive leadership can evoke skills kids did not even know they possessed. Contributing willingly to something greater than themselves often increases their self-esteem and personal pride. 

Teamwork is defined as the coordinated efforts of members of a group to achieve a common goal. In order for any team to be successful, the will of the members of the team must converge in support of a shared goal or task. A team is composed of individuals, who temporarily release self-interest, to focus their energy in pursuit of a desire they could not achieve on their own. The timeline of a team can be short-term or long-term, but it’s usually for a specific duration. Sportsmanship is a word that describes players on any type of team who participate with character and integrity.

Teamwork has not gone out of style. In fact, teamwork has never been more important than it is today. Sports teams rely on it, as do schools, businesses, towns, provinces, countries, and international partnerships. Groups of every type can benefit from better teamwork among members.

Perhaps you are hesitant about your child making a commitment to a team and if you are, I don’t blame you. It’s probably a good idea to weigh the pros and cons with your child before they join any team because of the time and focus required of them. Once you decide to go for it, never fear! The experience will likely challenge and stretch everyone involved.

Keep these teamwork tips fresh in your mind, and your family will have a better experience managing and succeeding in all of their extracurriculars:

1. Commit wisely. Your child should only join a team they are passionate about. It’s great if your child excels at more than one thing, but resist the urge to overcommit to too many teams. If you and your child try to please every coach, you won’t please any coach.

2. Communicate consistently. Conflicts, illnesses, and field trips are bound to happen. Try to manage expectations by communicating schedule conflicts to coaches as early as you can. Other parents may not bother informing coaches of last-minute schedule changes, but don’t follow in their footsteps.

3. Get in the spirit. You have heard that attitude is everything, and nowhere is this saying more relevant than once your child becomes a team member. If you want your child to be a positive contributor to their team, have regular conversations with them about how fortunate they are to be part of such an awesome group.

4. Be an eager learner. Coaches love engaged, enthusiastic players. Assume your child, no matter how capable, has not yet mastered the entire skill set. Skills are an ongoing journey. If your child does not have any more to learn, then maybe it’s time for them to graduate from that team.

5. Contribute your best. We need to ditch the idea that some people are natural born players and others are not. Anyone can contribute something to a team if they follow their innate instinct to be generous and contribute to the team wholeheartedly.

6. Stay open to constructive criticism. Part of being on a team is responding to criticism. Feedback will not likely be given perfectly every time. The coach and team administrators are not perfect either. Your child needs to learn to gracefully listen to the feedback given and apply it with the best of their abilities without pushback.

7. Bounce back from disappointments. Kids will need help finding the value in experiences that don’t thrust them immediately into the spotlight (e.g., sitting the bench or getting cast as the understudy). Help your child find the silver lining in these experiences, so they can learn from them and keep growing as a team player.

8. Cultivate courtesy. Sometimes you might have to say, “good game,” for example, when you really feel the opposite way. But coaches expect kids to park their pouting and behave with humility. Increase the odds your kids will be on their best behavior by being impeccable with your behavior, too. Cultivate your family’s reputation as team players, and you will raise good sports.

9. Taking confusion to the top. Had a misunderstanding or a miscommunication or miffed about something that happened during a game or a performance? Wait 24 hours before you fire off an angry email. Taking out your anger or your frustrations on the coach or administrators can hurt your and your child’s reputation. First, compose yourself and ask for help in understanding the situation before you demand heads on a platter.

10. Encourage new members. When your child became part of a particular team, you looked to the other team players to learn the ropes. Once your rookie becomes a veteran, it’s your turn to welcome new members and families. Stick out your hand, introduce yourself and offer whatever assistance you can. There is only one rule: Keep your comments constructive. Your little team member and fellow families will thank you for rising above the gossip and slander. 

If you want to raise a good sport, don’t...

be two-faced. Showing one face in public and
then talking smack about the coach or your child’s teammates at home is confusing and detrimental to you and your kids.

hover. Your child is on the team - not you. Sometimes the coach may need you around to do something for them but most of the time, they don’t. Parents play a supporting role and can ask the coach for clarification as to what helpful looks like whenever they are unsure.

stroke your child’s ego. Let your child strengthen their own ego through full participation. Your child is not superior to others on their team. Over-praising your child will undermine their natural desire to progress.

grouse. Appreciating the coach, administrators and teammates will lead to family optimism. Kvetching, complaining and grumbling will only inspire cynicism. Choose wisely.

imagine your child is the only one who matters on the team. How many members of the extended team are there? How many coaches? How many support staff? How many parent volunteers? Show appreciation and support for everyone involved. Nobody likes diva behavior.

merely focus on winning. Teams win and teams lose. Your child will have to learn to deal with their emotions related to both outcomes. Don’t be surprised if you are balancing cockiness as much as discouragement because kids may not have the ability to handle these emotional highs and lows without your guidance. 

overstay your child's enthusiasm. When the thrill of being on that team is gone, it's time to move on. Don't make the mistake of keeping your child on a team when they are no longer feeling the love. But they should never leave the team in a huff or quit because things aren't going their way. Instead, they should graciously leave when it's the natural time to move on and choose another team to be a part of. 

Christina is an author, journalist and writing coach. As co-captain of all of her teams in high school and college, she is keenly aware that teamwork is an inside job.  


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