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Teaching Your Child to Be a Good Sport

Medically reviewed by: Margaux J. Barnes, PhD

What Is Sportsmanship?

Sportsmanship is when people who are playing or watching a sport treat each other with respect. This includes players, parents, coaches, officials, and fans.

Kids might not know how to show they’re good sports, so it’s up to parents and coaches to set the right example.

How Can Kids Learn to Be Good Sports?

Before kids have their next practice or game, encourage them to: 

  • Have a positive attitude and give their best effort.
  • Follow the rules of the game.
  • Accept calls and not argue with officials.
  • Support teammates by saying things like, "Good shot" or "Good try." Explain that kids shouldn’t criticize a teammate for making a mistake because they wouldn’t want someone blaming them if they miss a shot.
  • Treat the other team with respect and never tease or bully. Shake hands before and after the game. Help up players who fall — even if they’re on the other team.
  • Be proud of themselves and their teammates no matter who wins and who loses. Winning is fun but they shouldn't rub it in. 
  • Accept a loss and focus on what they can do to improve rather than getting upset or blaming others. 

How Can I Model Being a Good Sport?

Kids learn how to be a good sport from the adults in their lives, especially their parents and coaches. As soon as your child starts playing sports, it's important to be a positive role model. Any teams your child plays on should have coaches who encourage sportsmanship.

A lot of the tips that you can give kids to follow when they play sports also apply to you when you’re in the stands or on the sidelines:

Be supportive. Applaud good plays, no matter who makes them. Keep comments encouraging rather than bad-mouthing anyone. Congratulate the winners, even if they're on the other team. If you have a serious concern, talk privately with the coach or official.

Offer to help kids improve. After a competition, don't focus on who won or lost. Instead, try asking, "What did you do well during the game?" or "Was there something you wish you could have done better?" If your child feels that something could have gone better, offer to work on it together before the next game.

Look for examples of sportsmanship. When a local or professional athlete is respectful to another player, point it out to your kids. Talk about the negative examples too, and why they upset you.

How Can I Be a Good Coach?

If you are a coach for your child's team, be fair and positive and encourage the players to do the same.

Encourage and praise all players for being part of the team, no matter their skill level.

Point out when kids show good sportsmanship. By highlighting positive examples in real time, you encourage other kids to act in a similar way.

Parents and coaches who emphasize good sportsmanship help young athletes learn respect for others and self-control. These skills can help them manage other parts of their lives, and help them develop into mature, respectful, and successful young adults.

Medically reviewed by: Margaux J. Barnes, PhD
Date reviewed: October 2023