Learn sportsmanship, tolerance and respect

With sports, the most valuable points don’t end up on the scoreboard. They’re counted in the many ways your kids show good character—sportsmanship, teamwork and friendship—on and off the field. Sports are loaded with chances to practice these valuable life lessons.

The soft side of sportsmanship

Giving a high five to the winning team, shaking an opponent’s hand, saying congratulations to the other team’s coach. Being a good sport can go against the American grain that winning is most important above all else. But we know that when it comes to life, that’s simply not true. Showing humility and acting with dignity are more valuable—and prove the bigger person. Let’s face it. We all prefer being around kind, compassionate people that are willing to be flexible rather than those who boast, never admit they are wrong, and always push to win.

The reward for good sportsmanship is often being well liked and respected, which goes a long way toward lifelong happiness. Kids who learn sportsmanship learn how to get along with others in all areas of their lives. They know how to compromise and take turns leading. They know how to shrug off a loss and vow to try hard again next time.

When your child walks off the field and has played his hardest and shown respect, he’s a winner whether his team won the game or not. If your child is upset for missing a goal or getting a bad call from a ref, tell him you understand how frustrating it can be to not have things turn out as hoped. Tell him you are proud of him, despite the loss, and you noticed how he was trying his hardest. Resist the urge to review a play and tell him what he should have done differently. Likely, he already knows but as we all know, we can’t always make our bodies do what we want them to do.

You might not believe this, but most kids just want to have fun. Many kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning one. Kids feel stress when they are playing a sport to please their parents or their coach. Make sure your child is playing the sport for the right reason—for the thrill of the game, for companionship, and for exercise. Remind her that winning isn’t the goal and that you won’t judge her on her performance. After all, very few players earn a scholarship to play in college. According to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) only two percent of high schoolers have that honor in the U.S. each year. Better to cheer them on and set them up for a lifetime of enjoying recreational sports.

Being one of the gang

Being a part of a team and celebrating each other’s stand out moments is an excellent backdrop to life. Kids who master this skill have it easier as they move through life at school, on the playground and when they get older and take a job. Being a good team player is at the top of every employer’s wish list. If you know how to be a part of a team, you are not afraid to cheer on a coworker’s success or share ideas.

So how can parents help instill the characteristics of a good team player including responsibility, respect, compassion, tolerance, courtesy and fairness on and off the field? It may seem unrelated, but consider getting your kids involved in volunteering in addition to playing sports. The lessons learned there will transfer to the playing field.

“There’s so much learning to be had from tangible life experiences. Volunteering presents many teachable moments about the bigger world,” says Andrea Holt, Marriage and Family Therapist with UCHealth’s Family Medicine Center in Fort Collins.

Developmentally, young kids are naturally a bit egocentric. Through hands-on volunteering, kids learn that their life really matters, that they can make a difference. They also learn that not everyone is like them, which fosters tolerance and respect for others.

Feathered friends

Sports are a great way for kids to make friends. From the get go, they all have the same goal—to play the game, work hard and improve—making it easy to bond. When kids feel accepted in a group, they have better self-esteem. Encourage your kids to pitch in by helping pick up cones and balls after practice. Model complimenting their team mates on the ride home and encouraging your kids to cheer each other on. Individual sports—like gymnastics, tennis, golf, archery and track and field—can make it even easier to take out the element of competition and boost the habit of encouraging each other. After all, when each person does well individually, the team does well overall.

Inspire your child to try a sport for all the right reasons—having fun, building character and getting exercise. You have lots of options in northern Colorado, from city recreational teams and sports associations, to sports programs offered at school. If you keep those three reasons in mind, your kids might avoid the statistic by the National Alliance for Youth Sports that says 70 percent of kids drop out of sports by the age of 13. The longer kids play, the longer they have the chance to gain the positive life lessons that sports bring.

Let it heal

Whether your child sprained her ankle kicking a soccer ball or tore a tendon sliding into second, do the wise thing and let it heal before allowing her back in the game. The coach might be chomping at the bit to get a good player back on the field, or your child might say he’s just fine and beg you to let him play, however, pushing the body when it’s injured might mean more—and worse—damage. Playing while in pain can lead to a chronic injury that can haunt your child’s sports career for months or even years.

If it’s a mild injury, ice and rest for a few days might be enough. If it’s more serious, like a torn ACL, your child might be on the sidelines longer and likely need rehab exercises and a staged return to playing. Either way, put your foot down and insist he or she wait until the pain and swelling are completely gone before getting back in the game.