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Fostering good sportsmanship in young people

The axiom “actions speak louder than words” is very true when it comes to teaching children about sportsmanship. As children model their behaviour on others’, having positive role models for children who play sport is particularly important.

I have received many comments from members of my skating club regarding the positive atmosphere we have. These comments always include something along the lines of how supportive and welcoming everyone is.

One girl in particular who I train with demonstrates extraordinary sportsmanship. Although she looks up to me in regards to skill, I look up to her in regards to the grace and dignity she displays. She accepts her losses and triumphs very humbly, and never outwardly displays anger or frustration at herself or her opponents.

I believe one of her secrets is her concentration on reaching her potential, rather than trying to win. Playing to your potential and bettering your best should be in the forefront of every athlete’s mind.

Focus on skill building, not winning

Everyone knows the well-worn adage “the journey is more important than the destination”. The same concept applies to sport: improving your own skills is more important than winning. Fostering this attitude in children can eradicate a “win at all costs” mentality. This will allow them to focus on improving themselves. And when children are focused on improving their own abilities, they are more receptive to celebrating others’ triumphs and displaying good sportsmanship.

Children can encounter a host of negative effects when they participate in a sport that focuses on winning more than their individual development.

“An inappropriate focus on competition can result in negative effects such as aggression, poor sportsmanship, anxiety, and low self-esteem.”

Sport for Children and Youth: Fostering Development and Strengthening Education, Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG)

Losing with dignity

Even if children prize their own development over winning, it is normal for them to feel sad or disappointed when they lose. Being able to choose how they react is another important part of good sportsmanship.

Losing their temper will not make them a particularly agreeable athlete or teammate. Children will associate those of their peers who have good sportsmanship as being fun to play with, whereas children might not want to play with those who get angry or frustrated all the time.

Fostering good sportsmanship in your child

How often have you heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words”? This may be a cliché, but it is very relevant here. Children learn by watching others, particularly those they see as authority figures.

At a young age, the only adults children encounter regularly might be their parents. How you act at your child’s training and competitions is therefore paramount to developing their good sportsmanship.

How to help your child develop good sportsmanship:

  1. Always give words of encouragement, rather than direction – that’s the coach’s job
  2. Keep your comments positive
  3. Do not concentrate on winning or losing; ask your child how they felt or if they think they need to work on a particular skill

Sportsmanship“, an article reviewed by Steven Dowshen, MD on

Role models

As children model their behaviour on others’, having positive role models for children who play sport is particularly important. High-ranking elite athletes would undoubtedly have the strongest influence over young athletes. These role models can have both positive and negative effects.

On the good side, children who look up to elite athletes can see what they can achieve if they work hard and are dedicated. On the bad side, elite athletes can be negative influences if they show poor sportsmanship, display violence or aggression, or engage in doping or cheating. But for every high-ranking elite athlete who is a negative role model, there are many more who display good sportsmanship.

Recently at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, spectators were shown a wonderful display of sportsmanship when each Australian 10,000km Womens’ runner waited on the track, to congratulate the runners that came after them. None of the three Australian won a medal, but what they managed to do was win the respect of fellow competitors and spectators around the world.

Claire Tallent who was disqualified while in the lead in her event, race walking, embraced her fellow Australian Jemima Montag who was the eventual winner of the race. Tallent chose to be supportive rather than leave the event and not cheer on her teammates. These displays of sportsmanship are the moments that will be remembered long after the Commonwealth Games.

Eleven years ago, Andrew Flintoff demonstrated the importance of congratulating your opponent, after one of the most nail-biting Ashes series of all time with Australia coming within two runs of England. When England took that last wicket, and their supporters let out deafening cheers, Michael Kasprowicz and Brett Lee crouched on separate ends of the crease, heads down in defeat. Enter Flintoff, who consoled Lee, crouching next to him and shaking his hand before he approached any of his own teammates to celebrate. Congratulating your opponent is an important aspect of sportsmanship, but doing this before celebrating your own victory is truly admirable.

10 ways to be a good sport

  1. Be polite to everyone, including opponents, coaches, and officials
  2. Don’t show off
  3. Always tell your opponents “good game” whether you have won or lost
  4. Learn the rules, and be on time for all training and competitions
  5. Listen to coaches and follow their directions
  6. Don’t argue with officials
  7. Don’t make excuses or blame others for your poor performance or if your team loses
  8. Be willing to sit out so others can play
  9. Play fairly and don’t cheat
  10. Cheer for your teammates no matter what

“Sportsmanship”, an article reviewed by Steven Dowshen, MD on

Being a good sport does not stop when you leave the skating rink, the playing field, the pitch, the court, the pool, or the track. Rather, good sportsmanship will follow a child home, into the classroom, and into all social situations. When a child learns good sportsmanship and to respect their opponents, coaches, and officials, they will also respect their classmates, teachers, and parents, and most importantly, themselves.

Image by Alyssa Ledesma