Have you ever stood at the sidelines of a soccer or football field and cheered your child on but were extremely distracted and annoyed by the parent shouting out coaching advice and hollering at everyone else’s kids? Let’s talk about why sportsmanship is important and how it begins with us!
This is just one example. How about the pouters and dishonest players? Cheaters and foul play or bad attitudes and inappropriate behavior?
Why is Sportsmanship Important?
The first thing that comes to mind with the term sportsmanship is sports, right? But why is sportsmanship important?
No one likes to play with someone who plays dirty and this carries over to various aspects of life. Business deals, work ethics, family board games, and our relationships.
Before I continue with the definition and synonyms of sportsmanship, I want to share our soccer experience from last year. It was our first experience with this kind of poor sportsmanship on the field, but sadly it was not our first experience with the bad attitudes of parents.
The kids were playing dirty. They shoved, tripped, swore, and name-called. The parents yelled at the refs and the other parents, they swore at the players.
They ruined the game. The fun was gone. It became stressful and unenjoyable. I was frustrated and disgusted. My son came off the field angry rather than smiling. Poor sportsmanship made for a bad year. It ruined it for everyone.
What is Good Sportsmanship?
The definition of sportsmanship by Merriam Webster is
- “conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.”
A few more definitions to help us see why sportsmanship is important.
- Fair: Marked by impartiality and honesty, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. Following the established rules.
- Gracious: Marked by kindness and courtesy.
Synonyms for sportsmanship:
- fair play
Sportsmanship for Kids
Teaching our kids that sportsmanship is important looks different for each family. Even if you are not a competitive family, the underlying principles of kindness, humility, and respect are characteristics we wish to see develop in our children.
We all know that losing graceful and winning without bragging are characteristics of good sportsmanship, but what else? Very Well Family has a great post on 10 Basics for good sportsmanship including being a team player and following the rules.
Teaching by Example
As with most things in parenthood, teaching good sportsmanship begins with us. We know that our children watch our every move and often take on our attitudes and behaviors (both good and not so good).
We can emphasize that sportsmanship is important, but if we are not demonstrating that in our actions then we are rowing upstream.
I will be honest. I am competitive and I do not enjoy losing. My 12 year old son is very bright and can beat me at most board games. He also regularly beats me at soccer. This is humbling and I am constantly resisting the urge to pout. I am trying to set a good example. I sure hope it’s working!
How do Sports Teach Sportsmanship?
For many of us (yes, even us adults) we need to practice a certain characteristic multiple times before it becomes natural to us.
Putting our kids out into the world of sports teaches gives them an area to practice and learn the importance of good sportsmanship. It becomes a place to learn, not just the sport, but about themselves and how to treat others around them.
One reason I like team sports is because it is important for kids to learn that success is not all about them. We win in life when we work with others, coming together to maximize on strengths. For more on these themes check out “To the Friend Who Doesn’t Realize the Gift She Is” and “Lessons from My Soccer Star”.
Books about Sportsmanship
Books are also a great way to teach sportsmanship. Here are a few ideas.
- Pete the Cat Play Ball by James Dean
- Cheetah Can’t Lose by Bob Shea
- The Berenstain Bears Play a Good Game by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- I Want to Win by Sue Graves
- The Ball Hogs, Kickers #1 by Rich Wallace
Good Sportsmanship Quotes
I thought I’d include a few good sportsmanship quotes in case you need some new ones to carry you through the next season. With all the negative we see from our athletes, it’s great to hear from some who think sportsmanship is important.
These good sportsmanship quotes are great to hang up on the wall as a constant reminder during a sports season. Whether soccer, baseball, basketball, or another sport is your jam, there is a good sportsmanship quote here for you.
“The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are at their worst.” – Martina Navratilova
“Sportsmanship for me is when a guy walks off the court and you really can’t tell whether he won or lost, when he carries himself with pride either way.” – Jim Courier
“After I hit a homerun I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases.” – Mickey Mantle
“It is your response to winning and losing that makes you a winner or a loser.” – Harry Sheehy
One Last Word About Why Sportsmanship is Important
I hope you have found this post to be encouraging and helpful. I want to make one last point about why good sportsmanship is important.
We want to imitate Christ.
While I was writing this, my mind kept running through the story of Jesus’s disciples where they are arguing amongst themselves about who would be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus answers them this way.
And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’
But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.
For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. (Matthew 22:25-27)
We want our children to have a humble heart, ready to serve. Christ himself, the son of God, served.
We do not want to encourage them to think themselves greater because they have amazing skill or natural talent. How they treat others will leave a bigger impact than their talents and skills.
A Couple More Bible Verses about Sportsmanship
How about we end this post with a few more Bible verses about sportsmanship? I love how Paul talks about running a race in the following verses. While we encourage our kids to be physically strong and athletic, the most important training we can give them is that of a spiritual kind.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
We can train our kids in character as they train in their athletic ambitions. Teaching them qualities such as perseverance, kindness, respect, appreciation, hard work, good attitudes, etc. will last them long after their sporting “careers” end.
Here, Paul talks about following the rules and not cheating.
And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:5)
How do you emphasize why sportsmanship is important in your family?
You might also like these character building posts!
Courage for Kids: How to Teach Bravery
How to Teach Kids Caring and Compassion
20 Ideas for Teaching Our Kids about Connecting with God Through Nature
2 thoughts on “Why Sportsmanship is Important and How to Teach it to Your Kids”
You’re definitely right when you said that children learn valuable traits via sportsmanship. It would really give them some traits that can help them out especially when they get younger. My child is a bit enamored in his gadgets nowadays and I hope to change that by getting him into some kid’s sports. It’s really great to hear about how much they can benefit from this and not just on the court.
I hear ya about the gadgets. I hope he will enjoy sports as much as my boys do!