Good sportsmanship is important in youth development – Part 2

You can help youth build good sportsmanship skills while also helping them manage their competitiveness.

Good sportsmanship is taught.
Good sportsmanship is taught.

Good sportsmanship is a critical skill for youth. As they get older they will be able to handle professional and personal issues as well as disappointments and successes in the workplace. When a young child breaks into sobs because they hate losing a fun game of Go Fish or are inconsolable after a close second in a relay race, think twice before scolding your little competitive ball of fire. Youth at this young age are just learning the concepts of winning and losing. They are in a state of black and white thinking, which means that when the goal is to win, they need to win. Losing is not an option.

Competitiveness is natural. “Parents Magazine” advisor and coauthor of “Smart Parenting for Smart Kids” Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., says to not be too concerned about competitiveness, especially with brothers and sisters. At home, an overly competitive young child is competing against siblings in a safer environment than on the playground with peers. These important interactions at home are an indication of how he or she will respond to similar competition in the outside world. At a young age they will compete over everything. Mine is bigger, taller, smaller. They understand winning is good. However, a peer might not appreciate your child’s winning attitude. Preschoolers don’t always understand their actions might be pushing their friends away. Switching your message to “Play to have fun!” and “Winning does not equal good and losing does not equal bad,” will help. Finally, praise them for how they play rather than the end result.

Good sportsmanship is taught. It is not a skill we are born with. While a child’s temperament is a big part of it, your reaction as a parent or caregiver will set the stage for future success. According to psychologist Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., preschoolers aren’t able to put words to how they are feeling. They express their emotions physically rather than verbally. They will need an adult’s help to articulate their emotions verbally. You can help them understand by saying, “When you cut in line, how do you think that made her feel? How would you feel?”

When your child is having a difficult time participating in sports or struggling to manage their competitiveness, Michigan State University Extension recommends the following suggestions to build sportsmanship skills in your young child:

  1. Stay calm and remove your child from the situation.
  2. Label their emotions: “I see you are sad because you didn’t get a chance to play with blocks.”
  3. Suggest playing a game or do an activity that involves accomplishments instead of winning. This will focus the attention from playing against someone to playing with someone.
  4. As an adult, be a good loser and resist showing off if you win.

It’s important to remember competitiveness and drive are important traits for your youth’s life skills toolbox. By addressing your child’s emotions in a positive way and sending the message that all of their feelings are appropriate, you will set them up for success as a contributing member of society in the future.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website.

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