Sportsmanship is the appropriate and fair behavior used while participating in a competition; it should be a life goal. The “gets along well with others” skills our children learn at a young age will carry them through middle and high school, college and into the adult years of jobs, board rooms, committees and social events. Sportsmanship takes place in all areas of life developing leadership skills and teamwork. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a NLT).
When we attend our children’s events we see the congratulations take place: parents taking pictures with broad smiles, players shaking hands at the end of a game and high fives exchanged after a great performance. We have also witnessed a child make a mistake, heard a coach or instructor yell, or a parent try to get their two cents in, resulting in an exasperated child with a defeated expression. “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT).
A favorite principle used over the years, “Your child will be who you tell them are,” rings true when applied with love and consistency. Before the world creeps in with a thousand ways to teach our children how to perform, share what we, as parents, see in them. Giving our children examples of how they have displayed exemplary attitudes and actions builds self-esteem from the inside out. Our children need to know that we love them unconditionally, that we are proud of them for trying and that there is more to life than victory. Respecting others and applying the “golden rule,” treating others like you would like to be treated, is a must. Playing fair and squelching an attitude of superiority helps children avoid taking successes too seriously. Honor is found when strength and courage are displayed on and off the field or stage. “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NLT).
It is never easy to lose, yet losing helps us to look back and ask, “How can I do better next time?” or “How can I change to make a difference.” Walking our children through defeat helps to instill an attitude of “we,” not “me.” As we encourage our children to avoid complaining about the seemed unfairness of a coach or instructor, they find it easier to conquer blame shifting, arguing and pouting. Wise parents explain to their child the importance of coming to the practice, game or event on time, prepared with the needed items and ready to listen. If slow obedience is disobedience practiced at home, the coach or instructor will arise and called you blessed! “But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 NLT).
Give your best
As we prepare our children to practice good sportsmanship, quiet humility in victory will speak for itself. Intentional parents help children learn joy is found when we help and encourage others; joy is found when we do our best never giving up. Most children will not receive scholarships for college sports or the arts; fewer will become a professional for the activities engaged in as a child and young adult. Having a good time, making friends, and learning new skills take the sportsmanship from the event to real life. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23 NLT).
Guard your tongue
Keeping the communication lines open with coaches and instructors is beneficial but not while an event is taking place. Choose a private time to calmly discuss concerns. Many parents find it difficult to refrain from sideline coaching or instruction. When authoritative figures are shouting simultaneously, children are confused and distracted, unable to focus on performing at their best. Sports officials are wary of public attention and out-of-control parents heap embarrassment and ridicule upon their children. Young spirits are crushed when we criticize and do not find one thing to build up. Today’s children are under pressure from peers and the media; our voice does not need to join the throng. We do not want to condition our child to ignore us so they will turn to their peers for motivation. A word of advice when our words are many: refrain. If another parent is rude and has lost perspective, stand silent or seek out an official known for a calm demeanor.
Coaches and instructors should know how appreciative we are of their hard work and efforts. Pray for them. As we pray for others, we become more caring and grateful. It is important to support the coaches and instructors making a firm parental policy to not talk about them in a negative way. Little ears are big listeners and easily misconstrue. “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything” (Proverbs 13:3 NLT).
Guard your heart
May sportsmanship experiences be positive for our children. Their hearts are tender as they are learning to be what God desires them to be during their formative years. More than any physiological organ, our children’s hearts are a life source of physical needs met along with a balance of their emotions and hope. Researchers, Doc Lewe Childre and Howard Martin MD, have studied the heart extensively, believing an emotionally well cared for heart enables a child or adult to live and give grace, tenderness, forgiveness, and optimism. They further state a poorly cared for heart dysfunctionalizes these abilities causing the child or adult to portray bitterness, depression, judgementalism, stress, worry and fear. Their research shows that a heart personally cared for is empowered as a person practices thankfulness, forgiveness, and I have to throw in… sportsmanship and humility. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT).
Vickie Estler is the monthly Happy Hearts speaker at M.O.M./Moms on a Mission at Rio Vista Community Church, Ft. Lauderdale. Ponder the “weekly 7” (a verse a day encouraging families) on her blog ponder365.com