10 Basics of Sportsmanship for Sports Parents

Sad but true: Kids aren't the only ones who need to learn good sportsmanship.

Boy (5-7) in soccer uniform holding Father's hand and ball, rear view
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As soon as your child joins his first tiny tot soccer team, he starts to learn sportsmanship. Teaching it is part of his coach's job—but it's also your responsibility, and one that's shared by every sports parent. Kids are watching, so be a good role model, right from the beginning. Here's the grown-up version of 10 basic sportsmanship principles every young athlete should know. You want your child to exemplify these principles, so you should too.

1. Play by the rules. Don't lie to the coach about why your child skipped practice, or try to sneak him onto a team he's not ready for. Rules are in place to keep the sport safe, fair, and fun for everyone. Don't teach your child that exceptions are okay; that doesn't build team unity.

2. Be a team player. Help the coaches when you can, and cheer for every team member. Being a team player also means not asking for special treatment, such as extra playing time, for your own child.

3. Be a good friend. Unfortunately, sports parents are infamous for forming cliques and freezing out fellow moms and dads. Don't be a part of this behavior. Seek to be kind and inclusive when you interact with the parents of your child's teammates, as well as coaches, officials, league administrators, and so on. Remember, almost everyone is a volunteer and is there because his or her child loves the sport.

4. Own your mistakes. It happens: You forget a piece of equipment, deliver your child to practice late, or mess up a task you volunteered to do.

Instead of making excuses, make amends. Issue a sincere apology, and figure out a way to make things right if you can.

5. Avoid "trash talk." It's a cliche because it's true: Little pitchers have big ears. What you say, your child is very likely to repeat. So if you have negative opinions of coaches, players, officials, parents, or anyone else involved in the sport, keep them to yourself.

That goes double anytime you're within earshot of your child, her teammates, their opponents, and any other sports parents. If you have to vent, never do it in public or online. Save it for a private conversation with your spouse or a trusted friend.

6. Say "thank you." It's just good manners—and it helps keeps a sports program running smoothly. Everyone likes to feel recognized and appreciated.

7. Ask other fans to be good sports too. If you bring your other children, relatives and friends to your child's games and events, make sure they are good spectators. If they're disrespectful to any participants in the game (including players, officials, or coaches), call them on it.

8. Shake hands after the game. While you may not be down on the field with your child doing the customary handshake, you can interact politely with the opposing team's parents in the stands and anywhere else you encounter them.

9. Be respectful when you win. Just as you'd tell your child: Winning is fun! Enjoy it, but not at the expense of the losing team.

10. Be gracious when you lose. When the game doesn't go your way, accept it and move on. This isn't the time to berate the officials or coaches. Let the coach debrief the team and show them how to learn from the loss. Your role is to support your child and help him deal with any disappointment.

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