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Raising a good sport

“Catch it! C-A-T-C-H I-T!” Sam’s baseball coach shrieked as a fly ball soared into the outfield during a critical game. Sam’s team lost, and when the 9-year-old got home that night, he tore off his uniform and swore he’d never play baseball again. “That’s it. We blew our chances for the playoffs,” he cried to his dad.

Hard to believe, his father thought, that this was the same kid who, just weeks earlier, kept trying on his uniform, impatient for the season to begin. Somewhere along the way, excitement had given way to disappointment and frustration.

And Sam is hardly alone. About 70 percent of the 6- and 7-year-olds who play team sports drop out by age 15. The most often cited reason? It stopped being fun.

How can parents help take the focus off the scoreboard and put it back where it belongs? Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t be results oriented. Win-loss records merit secondary attention. Instead, encourage your child to play his or her best, to strive for excellence and to cooperate with the team. After a game, praise your little centerfielder for persevering and tell him or her how much fun it was watching the team play.
  • Help your child pick the right sport. Ask your children what kinds of activities interest them and what skills they would like to develop. Think about your children’s motivation and maturity levels. Perhaps they’re not quite ready for team sports and should stick to solo activities for a while.
  • Find out about the coach’s style ahead of time. Does he or she keep the best players in the game and bench the rest? Does the coach humiliate the kids in front of their teammates? That kind of example can turn a child off to sports for life. If it’s not realistic to switch teams, help your child put the coach’s bad behavior into perspective.
  • Be a good role model. Attend your child’s games and exhibit sportsmanship-like behavior yourself. At games, cheer good play by both teams. If you don’t agree with an official’s call, respect it nonetheless. If you have a suggestion for the coach, offer it in private, not on the field.
  • Support your child’s commitment. Make an effort to get your child to practices and games on time. Give the coach advance notice if your child will be unable to attend a session.

Helping your child become a graceful competitor will benefit him or her in all walks of life. Besides instilling a love of sports, healthy competition builds pride and self-confidence and motivates kids to achieve—be it in the classroom today or in the boardroom tomorrow.