A gold medal attitude

Some kids are natural "good sports" - they win graciously and accept defeat with good humour; while for others, it takes practice, encouragement and often a dose of maturity before they are able to obey and understand the rules of good sportsmanship. Here are some ways to help your child have a gold medal attitude.

As parents, we can help our kids become ‘good sports’ by discussing what sportsmanship means and pointing out traits of others who show good sportsmanship. Stressing the importance of being a good sport encourages children to do the right thing even when others do not. We can explain the concept of fair play and the importance of losing or winning with good grace. Our children need to learn to follow the rules of the game and respect coaches, players and referees; as well as remembering that the qualities of good sportsmanship are also crucial off the field. Phew! No wonder it’s often hard for kids to get it right.

We should also provide opportunities to practise good sportsmanship and remind them that these rules apply equally to indoor games, such as board games, as they do to outdoor sports games. Sharing and taking turns, offering encouragement to others, and being able to give and receive compliments also go hand-in-hand with a gold medal attitude.

Often, it’s easier for your kids to know what to say in certain situations if you’ve discussed it together beforehand and come up with some suitable responses that your child can have in mind to use when needed. We’ve called these ‘Verbal Cues’ and, by talking through these together, you can give your child an idea of things they can say in situations that are difficult or awkward for them.

Here are some pointers that you can use as a starting point for teaching your kids how to be good sports:

being a good sport

  • Choose teams in a fair way that respects the feelings of everyone involved, regardless of their ability.
  • Turn up to all team practices.
  • Be sure you know the rules of the game or else ask someone to explain them.
  • Decide on a fair way of choosing who starts the game.
  • Remember to wait your turn.
  • When the game is over, either congratulate the other person or make a positive comment about their effort. Say it in a sincere way.
  • Be a team player and do not seek individual glory.
  • Shake the other person’s hand.
  • Help to put the equipment away.
  • Show respect for your opponents, coaches, officials, your teammates and the school or club you represent.
  • Abide by the decisions of referees and officials.
  • Don’t boo or heckle the referee or officials.
  • Set a good example for others.
  • Maintain perspective about winning – it’s not the most important thing.
  • Applaud good performance for your team and your opponents.
  • Don’t yell or make noise to put off your opponent when it’s their turn.
  • Don’t blame the loss of a game on anyone or anything.
  • Don’t swear or display anger.
  • Show compassion and friendship in victory or defeat.

Verbal cues for good sportsmanship

  • Congratulations, you played a good game.
  • Well done – that was a challenge.
  • Thank you – I really enjoyed playing against you.
  • That was fun – we should have a rematch sometime.
  • Good game – your team has some really skilled players.
  • I was really impressed with the way you ...
  • Say to yourself: It’s okay that I didn’t win. Somebody has to lose.

Teach your child that most games have winners and losers but the way they react determines whether they really “win” or “lose”.

How to lose when you win

  • Boast about how easily you beat your opponents.
  • Point out what your opponents did badly.
  • Laugh or scoff if your opponent misses a shot or makes a mistake.
  • Brag to others each time you win.

How to win when you lose

  • Thank the winner for a great game and congratulate him or her.
  • Accept that you have lost, but remember that you have the chance to win next time.
  • Help pack up and put away materials.

How to lose when you lose

  • Whinge.
  • Be grumpy and act as if you don’t care about the game.
  • Accuse the winner of cheating.
  • Give up or stop trying because you think you are going to lose.
  • Make negative comments like “this is a dumb game”.
  • Make excuses for your performance.

How to win when you win

  • Keep trying hard, even if you are way out in front.
  • Show your opponents that you are pleased that you won and thank them for a good game.
  • Show your opponents that you enjoyed playing against them and invite them to play again soon.
  • If you think you were lucky to win, tell them that too.
  • Help pack up and put away materials.

related skills

sharing and taking turns

  • If there is not enough equipment for everyone to use, devise a fair system so that all people have access to it. Decide on a fair amount of time or give more time to people who need the equipment to complete certain tasks.
  • When it’s your turn, stick to the time limit you have set.
  • Share your personal things. If you don’t want to share something, don’t bring it. Alternatively give instructions, in a friendly voice, regarding how you want others to use it, so it’s looked after properly.
  • Take turns in discussions. If you are not sure if someone has finished talking, ask, “Can I say something now?”

Verbal cues

  • Would you like a turn?
  • I think it’s your turn now.
  • I have these ... would you like to borrow them?
  • When you use my ... could you please ...

encouraging others

  • When someone makes an error, remember how you feel when you make a mistake.
  • Don’t point out the mistake, they probably already know.
  • Say something that indicates you know how they feel.
  • Use humour to make light of the situation and to make the person feel better (but don’t use it to put the person down).
  • Remember, the person wants respect and understanding from you.
  • Touch them quickly and lightly on the arm to console them.
  • When they fix their mistake, be positive but don’t go on about it.

Verbal cues

  • Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.
  • This is hard, isn’t it – I had a bit of trouble too.
  • Keep up the effort, you’re nearly there.

giving compliments

  • Decide what you will compliment the other person on (e.g., effort, skill, achievement).
  • Choose a time when the other person will feel comfortable accepting the compliment.
  • Be sincere.
  • Begin the compliment using “I” messages to show it is your opinion.
  • State what it is you like and your reason for liking it.

Verbal cues

  • I really like ... because …
  • I think that ... is very skilful because ...
  • I find the way you ... very inspiring because ...
  • In my opinion, the ... was amazing because ...

accepting compliments

  • Thank the person for the compliment.
  • Accept the compliment in a way that protects you from your own self-criticism.
  • Comment on the content of the compliment and add some information to it.
  • If you think the compliment is insincere, remember it is the person’s opinion and ask them to describe what they like specifically.

Verbal cues

  • Thank you, I appreciate that.
  • Thank you, I’m glad you think so.
  • Thank you, that’s nice to hear.
  • Thank you, I have been practising that.
  • Thank you. What was it that impressed you?
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