This giveaway is no longer accepting entries. Congrats to this week’s winner, Jaime!
Beyond the excitement of seeing the top athletes compete, watching the Olympics can help teach kids another valuable lesson – how to be a good sport.
While few kids will ever compete at the Olympic or professional level, observing how the athletes behave when they win and when they don’t can be a great opportunity to discuss the child’s own experiences when they play sports.
Playing sports and being part of a team can be a valuable experience for kids. Through participation, they learn:
- How to work collaboratively with others
- How to set a goal and work toward it
- How to persevere
- How to lose but grow from it
And, research shows kids do better when they’re involved in athletics — better grades, better relationships, and even a lower incidence of drug and alcohol abuse.
But, while there are so many benefits to be gained from participating, the number one reason kids play is because it’s fun. It’s also the main reason they stop playing, when it stops being fun to play.
How to Keep Things Fun
Parents and coaches are really key to helping kids learn from their participation, and enjoy playing. They are the ones who help set the stage by modeling good behavior.
Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, health psychologist at UW Health, offers a few strategies to help parents and coaches keep things in perspective:
- Don’t focus on the win or the loss, instead ask kids what was fun about the game
- Encourage kids to think about what they did well, and even the strengths of the other team
- Praise the kids’ performance, effort and attitude – even when they make a mistake – by saying something like, “When you missed the ball, you handled it really well.”
There are a lot of “teachable moments” when playing sports. Parents can help kids get the most out of participation by encouraging positive skills. One way is to set some grounds rules.
The ground rules are behaviors you expect and encourage within your own family. And they help kids understand what is and is not acceptable behavior. These rules can include things like, “it is not acceptable to cheat,” or “we never call anyone names.”
And, state the behaviors you expect, such as – it is expected that you always show respect to your coaches, the referees and the other team. Or, it is expected that we shake hands and say “good game” after the game.
Parents and coaches should also think about their own behaviors as well. Make sure you’re demonstrating the behaviors you expect.
When a Child Is Not Good Sport
We’re all human, and there will be times when our behavior is worse than expected. That’s true for adults as well as kids. So what do to about it?
Dr. Mirgain reminds us that kids needs to learn how to handle emotions, particularly the challenging behaviors like anger and sadness.
Catching the behavior early is important, and can help kids learn from their actions. Give kids time to calm down. Then, in a neutral way, talk about what happened and together come up with strategies for better ways to react in the future.
Questions like, “What could you have done differently?” or even, “How do you think your behavior affected the team?” can help kids see beyond themselves.
And in the process, kids can develop strategies for dealing with strong emotions. Like taking a deep breath and stepping away from a situation when they’re angry. Or, if they’re sad, encourage them to seek comfort. It’s about helping kids find the tools that work best for them.
While it’s good to dream about being an Olympic or professional athlete, the reality is very few ever make it to that level. As Dr. Mirgain notes, it’s critical to focus on the life lessons of playing a sport. Letting kids know they are valued and accepted no matter how they perform. And, when you remember the child is so much more than just the athlete, it can help kids develop a sense of confidence and enjoyment of their sport.
Prize: 1 – $10 Dick’s Sporting Goods gift card. No substitutions.
Rules: Giveaway closes on Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 11pm CST. Open to Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois residents only. One entry per email address is permitted. The winner will be selected using random.org and announced on Monday, August 13, as an update to this post. Come back to Growing Up Healthy on Monday for the announcement of the winner and next week’s giveaway. Subscribe to the blog and you’ll get new posts delivered to your inbox as soon as they’re posted.