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Friendly Competition: Is it Possible?

By: Angela Gillaspie, April 2003 © All Rights Reserved

When children participate in sports, they improve their physical abilities, social skills, self-esteem, leadership, and understanding of competition. On the other hand, they can also experience disrespect, fear, frustration, and humiliation. These good and bad feelings and actions are picked up from coaches, players, and parents.

Is winning everything? Often the child and parent alike view their opponent as the enemy because they think winning means everything. The word "compete" comes from the Latin words "com" (together) and "petere" (seeking) making the true definition of competition to be a "seeking together" where the opponent is not the enemy but the partner. The more skillful the opponent, the better the child performs.

Putting the emphasis on winning removes the enjoyment of spontaneous play for the child. The child is a winner when she/he tries her/his best at every game and practice, she/he continues to learn and improve, and she/he won't allow mistakes (or the fear of making a mistake) stop her/him from playing.

Do kids want to win? Sure! But more importantly, kids want to be with their friends and have fun - winning isn't the main reason they play the sport. Often a child will stop playing sports because her parents go berserk on the field, pressure the child to win, or take the game's outcome too seriously. When parents lose control, it harms the child's spirit, confidence, and trust. On top of this, the child is frightened and horribly embarrassed.

Why do parents lose control? Alcohol consumption, medical conditions and drugs, and the weather (cold, hot, or humid) can influence the parent's behavior. Also, some parents over-project themselves onto their kids. Parents see their children as extensions of themselves and think their self worth is linked to the child's athletic success, and view sports for achieving fame, glory and material rewards.

Parents have anxieties about the game - just like their kids - and they don't want their child to fail or look bad. They get wrapped up in the game and forget what is best for the child. They forget that the game is for the kids - not the parents.

Often parents don't know the rules of the game and when the official makes a controversial call, a large misunderstanding can occur. When this happens, the parents may not know how to intervene when they see a situation arise, and then they'll jump right into the dispute.

The top reasons for outbursts are usually calls by officials, the team's performance, the coach's behavior, and a parent's behavior.

Honoring the game. To prevent abusive behavior, the sponsoring sports program should provide a basic set of game and behavior rules. The program should require the parents sign a pledge of good behavior. Kids will take their behavior cues from their parents, so parents and kids together should be taught to honor the game. The Positive Coaching Alliance (https://www.positivecoach.org/) offers a great example of behavior to get to the ROOTS of the matter.

Sportsmanship is essential. Sportsmanship is defined as "Conduct and attitude considered suitable for participants in sports, especially fair play, courtesy, striving spirit, and grace in losing." To summarize, don't gloat and dance when you win, and don't whine and make excuses when you lose.

The National Alliance for Youth Sports (https://www.nays.org/) has a great program called the Parents Association for Youth Sports (PAYS) that educates and motivates parents to make their child's sports experience safe and meaningful. PAYS encourages good sportsmanship, positive reinforcement and keeping youth sports in its proper perspective.

Another resource is the book, "Sports and Your Child: A 50-Minute Guide for Parents" by Doctors Ronald Smith and Frank Smoll. In it, they say parents should answer "yes" to the following questions:

In the end, parents need to look at why they are standing on the sidelines - is it for the parent or the child?


Are you a berserk parent?

Are you a supportive parent?

Stay tuned for more SouthernAngel's Competitive Columns!

Copyright © 2003-2018 Angela Gillaspie
Revised: 04/18/03 - 05/16/18
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