Teaching Sportsmanship Skills

By Molly Hankla, MA, BCBA

Whether it might look like sibling rivalry or having a hard time making it all the way through a family game night, many kids struggle with sportsmanship while playing games – structured or otherwise. One of the most common play skills we teach school-aged children is how to be a good sport while playing with others. This can be a little complex or challenging for kids because it often entails them paying attention to the other players in the game, their own play in the game, and managing their emotions all at the same time. 

If your child is having a hard time making it through a game while staying positive and being a good sport, know that you can help, and it isn’t too hard to do so. There are a few simple things you can do as a parent to help coach your child through playtime that can make things go more smoothly and help everyone have more fun. With that in mind, here are a few tips for how to make playtime go a little more smoothly at your house, whether that’s the kids playing together or the whole family for a game night. 

Give reminders at the beginning of playtime. 

While everyone is gathering to play, be it around your coffee table, kitchen table, or back yard, step into your coaching mindset and remind your kids how they can be a good sport while playing. Of course, these reminders will look different depending on the game but could include cheering on others if they have a good turn, celebrating kindly without gloating in they have a good turn, consoling others if they have a bad turn, and staying positive if they have a bad turn. 

Catch them being a good sport…and not being a bad sport. 

While you’re playing, look for as many opportunities as possible to praise your child for engaging in good sportsmanship. Remember, being a good sport can be both behaviors that you see and don’t see. Look out for your child cheering on others, being a gracious winner, and handling themselves well if the game isn’t going their way. The more you praise these behaviors, the more routine they will become for your child.

Coach them through the hard moments.

As you’re beginning to teach your child how to stay more positive and be a better sport while playing, they’re likely still going to hit some roadblocks and will need your guidance. If your child becomes upset while playing, help by coaching them through calming down and communicating to you what has made them feel upset. From there, you can show your child empathy by demonstrating that you understand why that made them feel upset, and then model how they could handle the situation better in the future. 

Give a game recap.

At the end of the game, give everyone feedback on their sportsmanship throughout the game. Spend time revisiting moments of good sportsmanship to provide additional praise and remind and encourage them to continue practicing staying positive during the challenging moments that might have arisen. 

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