Developing Sportsmanship in Teens

teen basketballIf your son or daughter is into sports, then you have hopefully seen a perfect example of good sportsmanship at the end of every event. Whether it’s football, hockey, tennis, soccer, basketball, or most any other sport, opponents show good will at the end of a game by shaking hands. It’s all part of sportsmanship, a great tradition in competition that was established thousands of years ago.

Unfortunately, it seems that many sports players are no longer investing in this important tradition. Taunting team members, trash-talking opponents, berating referees, and bragging have become all too common in school sports. Unfortunately, teens learn much of this behavior from watching parents yell on the sidelines, outrageous behavior by professional athletes they see on television, or coaches who have a “win at any cost” attitude. If we want the next generation to have good manners in their games, we need to teach them as children to develop good sportsmanship.

Practicing Good Sportsmanship

Good sportsmanship takes maturity and courage. It is not easy, especially for teens who have conflicting emotions. When a team loses – and every team does occasionally lose – players with good sportsmanship do not blame the officials, accuse their opponents of unfairness, or berate a team member for a mistake. When a team wins, they do not gloat, brag loudly about their success, or humiliate their opponents.

Take the time to explain to your teen what good sportsmanship looks like. Define sportsmanship for them.

Sportsmanship is:

  • playing fair
  • following the rules of the game
  • demonstrating respect to:
    • coaches
    • referees and officials
    • teammates
    • opponents
  • handling both victory and defeat with grace, style and dignity


Parents and coaches should go a step beyond just defining sportsmanship to teens. Encourage teens to do the following:

  • Learn as much as you can about your sport.
  • Play by its rules.  Do not cheat, such as pretending to be hurt or fouled to gain a penalty or advantage.
  • Show up for practice and work hard.
  • If you make a mistake, don’t pout or make excuses. Learn from it, and be ready to continue to play. If a teammate makes a mistake, offer encouragement, not criticism.
  • Be respectful toward everyone before, during, and after games and events. Talk politely and act courteously to your teammates, your opponents, your coaches and their coaches, the officials presiding over the game, and even spectators (who can sometimes be loud about their opinions).
  • Cheer your teammates on with positive statements.
  • Inevitably, you will encounter people – even coaches – who lose their tempers over the game. Keep perspective… even if you have worked hard and played your best, it is only a game. It is a small moment in the grand scheme of your life. Stay calm. Just because others are angry does not mean that you need to also be angry. And if tempers do flare, absolutely do not settle disputes with violence. If you are in a difficult situation, seek help immediately from a coach or official.
  • Acknowledge and applaud good plays, even when someone on the other team makes them.
  • Accept calls made by the officials gracefully. Referees are human and they make mistakes, too, but they are trying to make the best calls they can.
  • When you lose, willingly and swiftly congratulate the winners and accept the game’s outcome without complaint. Even if you feel disappointed about the loss, find something to feel proud about in how you performed and identify areas that you can improve for the next game.
  • When you win, be quietly proud of your success. Congratulate your opponents on a game well played or find a way to compliment the other team.


Parent Role Models

As with most values, sportsmanship is best taught by example. Here are some ways that parents can role model good sportsmanship to their children:

  • Convey a love of the game! Focus on the fun of the sport, not the victory or defeat. Keep the perspective that this is just a game, and it’s supposed to be enjoyable. Consider the additional benefits your teen is gaining through the sport, such as skills, discipline, exercise, and friends.
  • When attending a youth’s sporting game, always shout words of encouragement. Never disparage the coaches or referees, and do not shout directions from the sidelines.
  • If you do have complaints about certain issues, discuss it with your coach or league official privately.
  • Applaud good plays, no matter who makes them.
  • If the other team wins, congratulate the parents of the opponents.
  • After the game, ask your teen how they felt about the game, regardless of whether they won or lost. Listen carefully and encourage anything positive they have to say. If they recognize they are weak in a certain skill, offer ways they can work on that skill before the next game.
  • When watching professional sports, point out examples of both good and bad sportsmanship to your teen. Explain why the bad examples bother you.


Final Thoughts…

The world of competitive athletics has been trending towards minimizing sportsmanship and maximizing winning; therefore, if we do not expose children to the essentials of sportsmanship when they are young, we almost guarantee they will value a win over positive playing. As your teen engages in sports, encourage them to focus on skill mastery, improving their ability and confidence, and enjoying the experience. Good sportsmanship is a positive value that teaches respect, which will serve our children well into their adulthood.

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