Etiquette 101: Kids & Competitive Sports

Etiquette Expert Ellen Reddick shares ten lessons to consider.

When we think of teaching our children manner and proper behavior, we think of table manners, how that act when meeting adults, opening doors for others, thank you notes and so on. We want them to have the social skills to excel and be thought of as polished and gracious.

When we send them off to play sports not only do we not thank about manners and proper behavior but we, as parents, often forget proper behavior and go for the win at all costs. Not only not teaching our children good sportsmanship but also demonstrating poor sportsmanship ourselves.

What children learn when they play sports is equally if not more important that what we teach them at the dinner table.

These skills, or lack thereof, will follow them into their adulthood and will add to their level of success.

Our behavior as parents sets a stunning example for them and they of course will learn from our behavior and not what we preach.

Lets’ look at some rules for both parents and children.

1. Learn and abide by the rules.
Good sportsmanship is knowing the rules of the game and playing by them. If a child decides to participate in a given sport, it is his responsibility to learn not only how to play but also how to play according to the rules of the game. As a parent, this provides a great invitation to interact with your children. Nothing can be as satisfying to a parent as teaching their young child the rules of game.

2. Don’t argue with coaches, officials and opponents.
This is a common abuse of sportsmanship when players argue verbally and/or physically assault officials and opposing team members. Not only does this oftentimes make a player look silly and “out of control,” but it also forces the player to lose his or her focus on the game. The key here is to teach your children that when they experience anger or frustration during a game, they need to re-channel their energy and focus on something else.

As a parent they will closely watch our behavior to see if we walk our talk.

3. Teach your child to share in the responsibilities of the team.
A key to good sportsmanship is being a positive influence on your teammates. This includes encouraging players who may be struggling in their performance to accepting defeat graciously. On the opposite end, not tolerating poor conduct from fellow players or parents helps encourage others to maintain control. Remember, a everyone’s behavior reflects on the team in general.

4. Teach your child to encourage and support less talented players.
If your child is a gifted athlete, it is especially important to teach them the value of providing extra encouragement and support to less talented players. Since excellent players often serve as the leaders of their teams, they can often serve as catalysts in boosting the esteem and performance levels of their fellow players. This again is true with parents and the example they set.

5. Teach your child to always play fair, with honesty and integrity.
Honesty and integrity should be the two hallmarks of any athlete. Good sportsmanship means playing honestly and fairly at all times, and never indulging in any type of cheating.

6. Teach your child to follow the directions of the coach.
Listening to and following the directions of the coach is another attribute of sportsmanship. Since the coach is the designated leader, it is important that all the players support his decisions, so that the team can work as one unit – not as 20 different members. If your child finds they are in disagreement with the coach, it can teach your children to discuss their disagreements privately, in a civil manner, away from everyone.

7. Teach your child to respect the other team’s effort.
In the field of competition, respect for opponents is critical to good sportsmanship. Hence, applauding the efforts of the other team is a critical value that you can teach your children – no matter whether they are on the winning or losing team. If an opponent outperforms your child, teach your son to accept it, learn from it, and offer no excuses and move on. If your child outperforms another, teach him to enjoy the victory, but to never boast, mock, or minimize the opponent’s effort and skill.

8. Teach your child to praise your teammate’s efforts.
Everybody loves to receive a pat on the back or a compliment when playing sports. If your child learns to praise fellow players during both successes as well as setbacks, he will play a vital role on any team. And, no one likes to have a teammate that only complains and bickers about everyone’s performance.) As a parent, you too can praise your child after sporting events not only on the basis of performance, but for being a team player. The same is true for parents, snide remarks and gestures are not appropriate at any age.

9. Teach your child to end the game smoothly, and accept the results.
Good sportsmanship entails emphasizing the joy and excitement of participating, rather than the final outcome. After each game you might ask your child, “What did you do for the team?” It is always great to win but being a gracious loser is important for your child’s self esteem.

10. Exhibit sportsmanship yourself, and teach your children about great model athletes.
One of the best ways to teach your children about good sportsmanship, is to practice it yourself. Many of the principles above can be applied at home and in your daily interaction with family members. Your example will have a profound influence.

It also is important to introduce your children to top-notch, professional athletes who serve as excellent role models.

Discuss poor players and the reaction they receive when they exhibit poor and inappropriate behavior.

Agree that everyone needs to be the best they can be and enjoy the game.

Ellen Reddick is the co-founder of Impact Factory Utah and Elite Business Communications, Inc. Salt Lake City based companies specializing in training, consulting and coaching in business professionalism and communications.

Ellen is a well know Executive and Corporate Consultant who works with executives and corporations to help identify and assess developmental opportunities for both organizations and individuals. Her unique, practical and powerful strategies make her easy to talk to and her vast corporate background helps her coach high-potential individuals and those requiring new skills to enhance their leadership competencies. Her business experience is varied and extensive including Director for Fairchild Telecommunications International and the national Quality & Process Improvement Director for Lucent Technologies.

She is also a noted author of several business books and articles. Her books include The Art of Professionalism in Our Lives and The Complete Job Search Handbook. She currently writes a monthly column for The Enterprise Newspaper and participates in several business blogs.

Ellen can be reached at: (801) 581-0269 or

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