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10 Basics of Sportsmanship for Kids

Teach your children these guidelines for fair play and respect.

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Boys outdoor soccer

Teach sportsmanship for kids from the start.

Kari Dahlen

As soon as your child starts to play youth sports, he begins to learn the basics of sportsmanship. In fact, this is the best reason for young children to participate in team sports.

For kids just starting out, swapping high fives with the opposing team after a game may seem like a minor, not meaningful, detail. But moments like these lay the groundwork for true team play. Talk to your young athlete about these 10 important principles of sportsmanship starting at age 5 or 6, and continue the conversation as she gets older and sports get more competitive.

1. Play by the rules. They are there to make sure the game is fair and fun, and to help keep the players safe. So breaking them can be dangerous. And victories earned by cheating don't feel nearly as good as honest wins do.

2. Be a team player. Being part of a team means sharing the spotlight, so don't hog the ball (or the glory). A good coach should frequently point out opportunities for players to work together for the good of the team.

3. Be a good friend. If a teammate gets hurt, makes a mistake, or feels sad, offer some encouraging words. Never blame or taunt a team member for losing a game or giving up a score.

4. Own your mistakes. If you're the one who drops the ball, accept responsibility instead of trying to make excuses or shift the blame to others. A good player learns from mistakes (and a good coach makes the most of errors, turning them into teachable moments).

5. Avoid "trash talk." Saying mean things about and to your opponents is disrespectful to them, to the game you all love, and even to your own teammates. It makes them look bad too. So keep comments polite or keep them to yourself.

6. Say "thank you." Your coach deserves your thanks for the time he or she devotes to your team. So do other volunteers, including coaching assistants, sidelines helpers, referees and other officials.

7. Ask fans to be good sports too. When parents, brothers and sisters, other relatives and friends come to watch you play, they need to be good spectators. Nicely remind them to keep comments (about players, coaches, and officials) positive and polite.

8. Shake hands after the game. Or trade high-fives and tell the opposing team "good game." This shows the other players that you respect and appreciate them. After all, it takes two teams to play—games wouldn't be much fun without opponents.

9. Be respectful when you win. Don't brag and gloat when the losing team is around, or make fun of them for losing. It's okay to enjoy a win. You earned it! Just don't put the other team down while you're celebrating.

10. Be gracious when you lose. Not every game will go your way. Take responsibility for your losses instead of blaming them on the other team, the weather, or the officials.

Another way to encourage sportsmanship for kids is to read books about the topic. These books for younger school-age kids and tweens and teens can prompt great conversations about winning, losing, and fair play. Good sportsmanship doesn't come automatically or easily to every child. Your teaching and role modeling are critical in helping your learn this important life skill.

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