Teaching your children good sportsmanship

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24 2013 6:20 p.m. MDT

Good sportsmanship is displayed after the match as the Samba Her-icanes from Cache Valley play Avalanche, from Sandy, in 2012. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Good sportsmanship is displayed after the match as the Samba Her-icanes from Cache Valley play Avalanche, from Sandy, in 2012. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

On April 27, a recreational soccer game ended tragically when a 17-year-old boy allegedly punched referee Ricardo Portillo in the head after a disagreement. Portillo was sent to the hospital, and after spending a week in a coma, he died from his injuries.

As a person who grew up watching my dad officiate basketball games, this story hit home. I remember many times watching players, coaches and spectators yell so infuriatingly at my dad that I feared soon the yelling would turn into physical harm. My mother recounted being worried each time she sent him away to officiate a game, fearing he might get hurt.

As extreme as the Portillo tragedy is, poor sportsmanship is rampant.

All too often we attend sporting events, and whether it's a professional, collegiate, high school or Little League game, we see examples of bad sportsmanship. Not only do we see it but we expect it will happen. As parents and spectators, we often encourage it.

Why do we do this to our children? More importantly, how do we not only stop bad sportsmanship but teach good sportsmanship?

As an athlete, coach's wife, referee's daughter and mother to young athletes, here are some suggestions I have picked up along the way.

Know the rules of the game. When you teach your children good game-play, the chances of them causing any trouble on the field is reduced.

Teach your children how to be good winners and losers. Simply put, when you win, don't rub it in; and when you lose, congratulate the other team and take the loss as a chance to learn and do better.

Don't blame. This goes for parents, too. All too often, blame for a loss or a bad game is placed on a coach or a ref. Placing blame is never good and only encourages your athlete to look to someone else as the one at fault, which is not only bad sportsmanship but a bad character trait in general. After every game, I make my son tell me at least five good things that happened in the game before anything negative. And I never let him place blame on the coach, ref or another player. This gives us the chance to discuss the positive things that happened, and then ease into the discussion on things that may have gone wrong and what he can do to make it better. All he can control is the way he plays, not whatever else is going on.

Teach them to respect referees and coaches. It is true that refs may make calls you disagree with, and coaches may be doing things you don't like, but they are the authority figures in the game, charged with the task of making decisions. When a bad call is made, I always tell my son to play on, and that the time spent arguing only takes away from time he could be playing.

Be an example of good sportsmanship. As frustrating as it is to see your child get yelled at, pushed around or get a “bad” call made on them, getting involved, especially in the middle of the game, only adds to the frustration. When your child sees that you have lost your cool, the chance of him doing the same is only heightened. Furthermore, not only should you keep your cool at the game, but do it at home, too. When you, the parent, bad-mouths coaches, refs and players in front of your child — even if it is behind closed doors — this tells him that you don't respect these individuals, so why should he?

By teaching your children good sportsmanship, you will be teaching them important lessons they can use in life as well.

Arianne Brown is a mother of five who loves running the beautiful trails around Utah. For more articles by Brown, "like" her FB page (https://www.facebook.com/WriterArianneBrown), go to her blog at timetofititin.com or follow on Twitter @arimom5

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