How To Teach Your Kiddos Sportsmanship

By Lisa Katz

We live in an extremely competitive world. From a very young age, children are taught that winning is the ultimate goal. This mindset applies to both the sports field and the classroom. But what happens if your child shows poor sportsmanship while participating in this game of life?

Encourage individual accomplishment

One mistake parents often make is comparing or even pitting one child against another. Measuring your son or daughter against another sibling, teammate or classmate is not constructive. Rather, parents should place more focus on children as individuals. It is important to be supportive of the progress a child is making compared to where he began.

First grade teacher and team leader Katharine Mariani uses this concept in her classroom every day.

“When there is a winner, we should be happy for him and cheer him on because he is our classmate. It is a very hard skill for some students to learn and accept that they can’t always win! I try to keep it positive and recognize any effort made by students in all they do. We cheer for and encourage each other daily.”

Model behavior

Helping your child to understand good sportsmanship and how to be a kind person are pivotal lessons. Essentially, you are teaching your child to treat others the way he would want to be treated. Unquestionably, a child’s behavior will often mimic his parents’ and other adult role models’ behavior.

I distinctly remember an awkward situation where this was exhibited. My younger sister and I were taking a dance class. In one class, our dance instructor asked my sister, “Why can’t you be as good as your sister?” I remember glancing over and seeing tears in my sister’s eyes. She was incredibly hurt and embarrassed. I told my mother that we no longer wanted to participate in that class because the teacher was so mean.

While you may not be able to change an adult’s behavior, you can, as the parent, acknowledge if your child’s instructor is modeling the kind of behavior you want your child to learn. If not, move your child into another instructor’s class.

Explain the path of accepting defeat and moving forward

There are lessons to be learned in winning and in losing. Winning feels wonderful, and receiving that ribbon or trophy definitely adds to the excitement. When you don’t win, it means that someone else gets a turn to experience that euphoric feeling.

As adults, you may not get that impressive job or win that critical game, but you are able to recover rather quickly from that feeling of losing. You have learned how to adjust, deal with the disappointment and not take it to heart. You are able to truly embrace the fun of being a part of the game rather than focusing on whether you win or lose.

Children need assistance in walking through this experience. They should be able to enjoy what it feels like to play and not be worried about the stress of losing. Creating an environment for children to be able to do just that is something parents, teachers and coaches alike need to engineer.

Giving examples of how you (or a friend or family member) have dealt with losses in a positive way and sharing ideas for helping your child maneuver through his loss are ways to support him and encourage the development of good sportsmanship.


“Teaching sportsmanship to young lacrosse players is easy – keep it fun and don’t focus on outcome. The drills that we do have two main objectives: skill development in a positive manner and being a good teammate who is supportive and respectful to other players. It starts with coaches and parents modeling this behavior.”

–Tom Yonge, club director and coach, Pipeline Lacrosse