Instilling positive values like good sportsmanship in kids from a young age sets them up for success on and off the field. Here are some top tips for parents, coaches, and teachers to model respect, fairness, and responsibility in youth sports.
Lead by Example
Children learn by observing and mimicking the behaviors of adults. Be sure you exhibit good sportsmanship when attending games and practices. Cheer both teams, respect officials’ calls even if you disagree, and use positive language. Don’t yell or argue with coaches, opponents or referees.
For example, if you feel the referee made a bad call against your team, calmly discuss it with them at half time rather than shouting during the game. Accept close calls gracefully and move on. Kids will follow your polite, respectful example.
Use Constructive Feedback
Avoid overly critical language if a child makes a mistake during competition. Comments like “you should have passed the ball” or “you always miss your free throws” focuses on the negative. Rephrase corrections to be constructive – “nice try, keep your elbow in next time for better accuracy” or “heads up on open teammates next possession.” Praise effort, not just results.
According to an interview with Steve B. Phillips, author of Toys Queries, if a player is struggling with free throws, take time after the game to work on their technique in a patient, supportive way. Remind them that even NBA players miss shots sometimes. Keep criticism constructive and focus on improvement.
Reinforce the importance of teamwork over individual performance. Applaud great assists, hustle for loose balls, or sacrifices like a player giving up their starting spot graciously. Make kids feel valued for any contributions, big or small. Reward team achievements more than individual stats.
You could establish a teamwork award each game for hustle and unselfish play. Recognize when players make an extra pass to set up a teammate or dive on the floor for a loose ball. Celebrate when a backup contributes off the bench.
If emotions start running high during a big game, take a timeout. Remind kids that it’s just a game for fun and learning. Wins and losses don’t define their character. Keep competition lighthearted, especially with younger kids. Keep a smile on your face, win or lose.
For instance, if your soccer team goes down 2-0, call a break to refocus attitudes. Joke around and get them laughing again rather than dwelling on the score. The game result won’t matter tomorrow but their character lasts forever.
Model Respect for Officials
Don’t criticize or yell at referees and umpires in front of kids, even if you feel a call was unjust. Accept close calls gracefully. Speak respectfully to officials before a game if you have any concerns. Remember they’re human, doing their best to oversee competition fairly.
If an official makes a controversial call, calmly ask them to explain their reasoning after the game. Listen respectfully to their perspective, even if you disagree. Yelling accomplishes nothing. Thank them sincerely for volunteering their time.
Discourage Trash Talking
Banter between opponents should never veer into hurtful insults. Make it clear trash talking has no place in youth sports. Compliment opponents for good plays. No gloating if your team gets a lead. Keep chants and cheers positive.
If you hear a player trash talking an opponent, immediately pull them aside. Explain why it’s unacceptable and damaging to team culture. Make them apologize and reinforce that disrespect will not be tolerated.
Play by the Rules
No cheating, dangerous fouls, or dirty tactics allowed. Playing fairly is non-negotiable, even if it means a disadvantage. Teach kids to call their own fouls and penalties if a ref misses it. Winning the right way builds character.
If your player takes a dive in soccer, basketball or tennis, make them stand up and admit it was a flop. Call out cheating immediately and bench them for a series if needed. Similarly, flag overly aggressive fouls. Fair play matters more than results.
Include All Teammates
Don’t allow kids to feel excluded, bullied or picked last. Promote bonding and encouragement between teammates. Make practices fun with mixed skill level groups. Give everyone fair playing time rather than just starting the best players.
Assign team building activities like hosting team dinners or secret pals. Frequently change up practice drills to mix skill levels and positions. Establish a minimum play time policy so backups still get meaningful experience.
Win or Lose with Grace
Model how to handle both victory and defeat. Congratulate opponents sincerely after a loss. No trash talking or rubbing a win in their face. Celebrate victories humbly, not arrogantly. Enforce handshakes between teams, win or lose.
Win or lose, have players tell the other team “good game, nice effort” after the final whistle. Keep post-game talks focused on your own performance, not opponents. Make celebrating with class and dignity a priority, win or lose.
Remind kids that sports are an opportunity to learn valuable life skills like work ethic, confidence, leadership and resilience. Results are secondary to becoming better athletes and people. Praise their effort and growth. The scoreboard does not define success.
If teams get caught up in rivalry and ego, have a film study session focused on positives like technique and fundamentals rather than just the score. Not every game will end in a win but internal growth counts as success.
Make it Fun!
Above all, keep a lighthearted, positive approach. Be enthusiastic during drills and games. Celebrate silly bloopers or funny plays. Maintain humor and joy rather than an ultra-competitive focus on wins. Create lifelong happy memories around sports.
Get creative with practices by playing games or introducing surprise challenges to keep kids engaged. Toss in sprints or contests during water breaks. Maintain laughter and fun off the field through inside jokes and bonding.
By emphasizing values like teamwork, fairness and respect, parents and coaches can help build good character through youth sports. Modeling ethical behavior is the best way to develop sportsmanship and set kids up for success on and off the field. Keep perspective that sports are meant to be fun – winning the right way takes priority over results. With the right guidance, athletic competition can equip children with positive life skills.