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Five Ways To Model Good Sportsmanship For Your Child

  • Be a parent, not a coach: resist the urge to critique

    Some of the young athletes I work with tell me that they dread the ride home with their parents after a game or match. That's because, win or lose, they know their parent will go over their performance in detail, pointing out all their mistakes. Typical is Susan, a 12-year-old gymnast, who sat in my office recently with tears rolling down her face as she recounted her father's reaction to her most recent competitive performance at a gymnastics meet in Pennsylvania. On the four-hour drive home, her father, Dennis, went over her routine in excruciating detail, listing all the errors she made. He wasn't angry, he didn't yell. In fact, I am sure he had the best of intentions: he just wanted her to know how she could improve.

    The problem, of course, was that Susan already knew each and every error her father pointed out, and also recognized some additional missteps and faults that he hadn't listed. She didn't need him to remind her of the obvious. Dennis mistook her quiet stoicism in the face of a poor performance for a lack of caring. The fact was that Susan cared a great deal about gymnastics and hated to do poorly at important meets. The resulting resentment and miscommunications lead to Susan quitting gymnastics, which was unfortunate and unnecessary.

    The urge to critique a child's performance is very natural for parents. Yet many of the most successful athletes I work share something in common: their parents' lack of criticism of their sporting performance. "They just wanted me to play and have fun," is a typical comment from an Olympic basketball player. Another told me "Mom and Dad never had much say in how I played. They left that to the coach. But I knew they were always there for me, no matter how I did." Sometimes just being there shows your children what being a good parent is all about.

  • Stay Physically Active

    You will probably not be shocked to learn that your child learns more from observing you than anyone else. If you strongly encourage your child to participate in a sport, but aren't physically active yourself, you are sending a mixed message. How can we expect our children to grow up to be active and healthy adults if we ourselves are couch potatoes?

    The psychological advantages for parents to remain actively involved in sports and physical activities while their children participate in sports are many. It promotes an outer-directedness that helps parents look beyond their child and see the big picture. Being emotionally involved in your own sport helps avoid spoiling your child with attention. It is difficult to be very critical of your child's progress in a sport if you are constantly being confronted by how difficult it is to move forward in your own sport. I know that, since I have taken up golf, I have gained tremendous appreciation for how difficult it is for any child to learn the complex motor and cognitive skills of a sport. This gives me more patience for helping my children learn their sports.

    In fact, I think the best sport programs of the future will be those that include the whole family. What better way for children to learn to have fun and enjoy sports than by sharing activities with their parents, siblings and friends?

  • I hope my ideas are helpful to you, and as always, I look forward to any comments or ideas you have. Have fun in sports!

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