It’s easy to get caught up in the game. 3rd down, 2 yards to go, the quarterback sets and throws and – ohhh – the wide receiver drops the ball. In an effort to chase down the puck, a defenseman mistakenly scores an own-goal. Your heart sinks. And with the game on the line, the center simply misses both free throws and the team loses. Ugh!
And before you know it, you’re yelling from the stands. It might start with an innocent “C’mon!” but sadly in many cases it deteriorates into yelling that can erode kids’ confidence and self-esteem. You’ve likely witnessed a parent yelling things like, “C’mon Michael, Go to the ball! What are you doing? Get it together! What’s the matter with you? Move your feet! Turn and go! Go! Gooooooo! Awwwww man. Come ON!” Or maybe you’ve found yourself guilty of this behavior, too. It happens.
But a commitment to good sportsmanship is not just the job of the athletes and coaches. Parents play a critical role in setting the tone – at home, in the stands, and after the game.
Before the game, remind your child – and yourself – that practicing good sportsmanship is something important, something you together commit to, and something in which you and you’re your child can take pride, regardless of outcome of the contest. Let your child know that you, too, will work on your commitment to good sportsmanship and will be practice it in the stands.
During the game, work hard to not be “that dad” or “that mom” who loses their cool. While you think the spotlight is on the field, it’s actually on you in the stands in the eyes of your children. They see and hear it all. And during the game is your moment to demonstrate that you walk-the-walk and practice the very same good sportsmanship that you ask your kids to show.
Try things like ‘no verbs cheering’ where you only clap, wave your sign, whirl your rally towel, and yell “Yay!” No verbs helps you steer clear of coaching from the stands or criticizing your child or any others who are competing. Cheer for good plays – by both teams! When a controversial call happens, be silent – or maybe even give a ‘brush it off’ sign to the team and fellow parents in the stands. If your child seems not to be paying attention during the game or is losing focus (picking weeds in the outfield?), resist the urge to say or do anything during the game. Save it for a conversation between you and the coach afterwards on what you can together do to help your kid stay engaged in the game.
Remember that they are kids who play sports to have fun and to learn. With learning comes mistakes. And traits like grit and determination happen when kids get the chance to struggle, figure out solutions on their own, and overcome obstacles. Give them the space – and the quiet from the yelling – to figure it out themselves.
After the game, resist the urge to ‘break down’ what you saw. Start with asking, not telling. “What was the most fun part of that game?” “What was your favorite play?” “What did you learn from that game?”
And above all – before the game, during the game and after the game, remind your children that you love them and are proud of them, win or lose. And that you are especially proud of them when they practice good sportsmanship. Who knows, your kid might quickly respond, “I’m proud of your good sportsmanship in the stands, too, Mom!”