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Teaching Sportsmanship To Kids

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We are a competitive bunch and thrive off of a competitive atmosphere but sportsmanship was always heavily ingrained in me as a child. 

The definition of sportsmanship is being fair and kind to others whether you win or lose. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a victory or be sad about losing but you don’t diminish other’s achievements or rub it in their faces!

At the age of 5, my little guy already has a pretty big competitive streak. I’m not sure if it is genetic or he’s picked it up from me, but it is definitely there. It’s gotten so bad that he threw a tantrum the other day because daddy “beat him” at puzzles. I’m not sure how you compete during a family puzzle, but apparently, we were and he lost. The tantrum that ensued lasted 20 minutes of crying about how horrible daddy was and his refusal to take part in anything else we were doing until he calmed down, followed by another 20 minutes of giving daddy the stink eye.

This is when we realised we hadn’t been paying enough attention to teaching him sportsmanship. I am a firm believer in hard work and dedication to something and that it pays off and I have done my best to try and teach him this, forgetting that in the real world, regardless of who deserves to win, sometimes you just don’t.

This time might have only been a puzzle but as a competitive little guy who takes part and tries hard in a variety of different sports and activities, I wouldn’t want this sort of display with something else more important or with other children involved. My favourite phrase that I try to remember when I am in competitive mode is:

Try and beat them, not beat them down. 

Sportsmanship is the first step of learning this as well as how to be a winner that people admire rather than resent and a loser that can still enjoy taking part and appreciating themselves so this is what we have been focusing on. Some of the ways we do this are:

Encourage Practice

If there is something he wants to take part in or be good at, we sign him up and make him practice. On the days he doesn’t want to we encourage him to do it, reminding him why he started in the first place. If he doesn’t want to go 3 times in a row we re-discuss it and evaluate whether it is something he actually wants to do. This gives him a sense of effort and hard work to be proud of if he wins or succeeds, as well as giving him an appreciation for what other successful people go through and do to win or do well.

Not “Letting” Him Win

It’s one thing to give them a fighting chance or a handicap for yourself to take into account size/age etc, but I honestly don’t think letting kids win does them any favours. If anything it gives them a false sense of achievement and stops them from trying their hardest so we try not to just hand it to him. That being said, he has an uncanny ability to beat me at board games so he’s going to be getting a handicap soon!!


Win or lose, as long as his behaviour is appropriate and he’s not throwing tantrums or rubbing it in someone’s face, he gets praise. We love him regardless and I don’t want him believing that praise is reward or performance driven. As long as he shows a level of sportsmanship, we are proud of him and we will tell him all about it, whether we are commiserating or celebrating as a family.

Praising Others

We have started to implement a rule that after a game or competition he either shakes hands or says “good game” or “well done” to his opponents. That way, win or lose he is acknowledging the other’s part and if he wins, he is recognising how everyone else plays and if he loses it forces him to congratulate the winner rather than sulk off or tantrum. Laughing in someone else’s face or showboating isn’t tolerated, at home or anywhere else and we try to nip it in the bud if he gets overexcited and silly as well!

His recent sports day was the perfect example of putting this into practice and we were very proud of how he conducted himself. He didn’t do as well in the running as he thought he would but there were no tears and although disappointed he didn’t tantrum or show off. He had been practising his egg and spoon race and when he won he was very excited but didn’t rub it in anyone’s face and chatted to his friends afterwards about how well they all did. We are incredibly proud of the little boy he is becoming and thankfully he is starting to get the idea of sportsmanship now (although he still doesn’t like to lose to daddy – or me!) long may it continue.

Ultimately in this house, if you are going to compete and aim to be successful, you are going to do it the right way and deserve it which is why sportsmanship is so important! Do you have any experiences of dealing with sportsmanship (or lack of) in children? let me know in the comments. 

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