Four ways parents can model good sportsmanship at shows

Parents can have a profound impact on their children and other parents by modeling good sportsmanship at shows.

Photo by Pam Mackinder
Photo by Pam Mackinder

At any given time, a livestock or horse show can be exciting, stressful, emotional and exhausting for competitors and their parents. With all of the buzzing around and competition, the environment is ripe with opportunity to behave in a very unsportsmanlike manner; parents, this is your opportunity to lead by example!

Michigan State University Extension recommends these four easy ways you can model good sportsmanship at shows:

  1. Actively praise and congratulate others. Everyone likes to be congratulated for a job well done! For adults to genuinely and actively recognize other youth for their accomplishments, even if it is just “great job out there” or “I love watching you show,” it becomes a normal part of the show.
  2. Show compassion. Even the most successful showman has disappointments and setbacks during their showing careers. All too often we gravitate towards the negative, but reality is that people who are successful have countless hours of hard work and a large emotional investment into their projects. Parents can model good sportsmanship by extending a kind word to others when they are struggling. This creates an environment where people feel cared for, supported and connected. When in doubt, always be kind.
  3. Don’t criticize others. The old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” can go a long way. We all have opinions; however, it is up to us how to word those opinions so they don’t hurt or disparage anyone else. We may not agree with the judge’s placing that day or perhaps we would have managed the show differently, but we must show respect to those people because after all, they’re all people. The beauty of life is that we don’t all think and operate the same way. Finding the value in another person’s critique of our performance, learning about different ways to manage shows and observing others free from judgement allows us to learn a great deal.
  4. Take care in being your child’s biggest fan and greatest analyzer. Finding balance between when to sing your child’s praises and when to give them advice on their performance is key. When parents continue singing their child’s praises, the child may feel an enormous amount of pressure to not let their parents down. On the flipside, when you constantly and ruthlessly analyze your child’s performance and point out what they could or should have done, the child may begin to feel inadequate and unworthy of praise. Striking the balance between the two is hard; a simple approach is to turn to your child. Ask them how they think they performed. If they were happy, encourage and enjoy that moment. If they felt they could have improved, offer support to help them meet their goal.

To learn more, visit the Michigan 4-H Animal Science website.

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