It's tough to be a good sport. Watch any youth sports game and you'll see the bad behaviors -- the yelling, the screaming, the blaming -- and that's just the coaches and parents.
The bottom line is, if we want our kids to learn good sportsmanship, we have to set a better example.
"Coaches and parents need to be careful because kids are learning as they are watching your reactions," said Jeff Bauman, a child psychologist in Weston. "Role modeling is the best way to teach emotional intelligence."
The social skills kids learn on the playing field, such as resilience and respect, can help make kids successful in other areas of their lives.
"You can equate sports with the working world and the academic world," Bauman said. "To be successful, you have to have the skills to get along with people, to have empathy and support them."
What is good sportsmanship? Treating your opponents, coaches and officials with respect.
Why is it important? Kids who are bullies on the field carry that behavior onto other social situations. Kids who play with mutual respect and dignity are more emotionally mature in other aspects of their lives.
How can coaches and parents help?
Kids learn from the adults in their lives. Those who learn good sportsmanship realize that the real winners in sports are those who behave with dignity, whether they win or lose.
Coaches and parents who focus only on winning often strip away the value of other accomplishments on the field. Encourage youths by teaching them to take pride in their improving skills, play fair and help their team.
Willie Chacon, CEO and founder of the South Florida Sports League in Miami, a nonprofit recreational league that serves about 1,000 youths a year, said their volunteer coaches attend clinics to learn about good sportsmanship.
"Our philosophy is if you start with the coach, and you teach the coach to act in a proper way, you will have more success," he said.
Chacon said he has seen coaches intimidate children by yelling at and criticizing them.
"Yelling is going to happen. You just have to watch the vocabulary," he said. "If Johnny messed up, tell him he messed up. Mix in encouragement and always finish with a positive statement."
TIPS FOR COACHES• Talk to the kids about good sportsmanship. • Draw up a contract of expected behavior for kids and their parents to sign.
• Discourage criticism of opposing players.
• Discourage showing off.
• Shout words of encouragement from the sidelines. Share constructive criticism in private.
• Focus on the effort. Kids need to know we are proud of them for trying their best.
• Accept that there will be mistakes and games will be lost.
• Encourage players to congratulate opponents after a game.
TIPS FOR PARENTS• You are the parent, not the coach. Shout encouragement, not orders, from the sidelines. • If you are your child's coach, don't be harder on your own kid. • Don't badmouth coaches, other players or game officials. If you have a problem, discuss it with the coach privately.
• Don't focus on who won or lost.
• Set a good example. Be courteous to the parents of kids on the other team.
• Don't push your kids into a sport they're not interested in.
• Do a reality check. It's a game. Even if your kid doesn't win, they're honing other skills.
• Look for examples of good sportsmanship among professional athletes and share them with your kids.
TIPS TO GIVE THE KIDS• Shake hands with your opponents before a game. • Acknowledge their good plays. • Accept bad calls with grace.
• Skip the trash talk. It will only increase tension.
• Listen to your coach and follow directions.
• Don't make excuses or blame a teammate if you make a mistake. Own up to it and learn from it.
• Play fair and don't cheat.
• Don't argue with officials. If you disagree with a call, discuss it with your coach.
• Learn to lose without losing your cool.
• Practice makes perfect. Practice good sportsmanship when your playing board games with the family or pick-up games in the neighborhood. It will get easier with time.
• Remember kids who are good sports are the kids who are fun to play with.