10 Ways to Teach Kids a Winning Attitude – On and Off the Field

How to Teach Kids the Positive Rules of the Game

At any given time of the year, millions of kids participate in a wide spectrum of competitive extracurricular activities like sports, dance, cheerleading, debate, theater, and more.

When I think about that, I’m reminded of the words of the great American sportswriter, Grantland Rice, who penned, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks, not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” 

In the many competitions you’ll attend over the years, you will have countless opportunities to help drive that point home with your kids.

It is, indeed, about how you play the game.  And it’s also about how you conduct yourself (and how we parents conduct ourselves) before, during and after the event that speaks volumes about our character.

Let’s look at 10 ways to foster a winning attitude on and off the field:

1. Win or Lose: Take the pressure off the outcome by focusing on your child’s effort and improvement, like extra practice or strong teamwork, instead of the final score. Connect wins or losses to specific behaviors by asking, “What did your team (or you) do that contributed to the win?” or, “What could your team (or you) do differently next time?”

2. Practice sportsmanship on the Field and Off: Deliberately train your kids on winning and losing gracefully, and good sports character. Try playing cooperative board games that get your kids encouraging each other, then when they’re ready, move to competitive games. For the younger set, favorite stuffed animals can also step in to demonstrate sore losers, gloating, and the rest.

3. Disguise Lessons Through Family Fun: TV shows and movies can be great teaching moments and a fun way to demonstrate important life lessons. From watching sports on TV to seeing competitive behavior in movies or shows, there are often teaching moments that you can use to open a conversation about sportsmanship and empathy.

4. Put the Work into Teamwork: “There’s no I in team” is a valuable lesson on the field and off. Coach your kids on ways to encourage frustrated teammates, play to each other’s strengths and stick together, and you’ll prepare your child for wins far into the future. Make it a goal to encourage each player on your child’s team from the sidelines every game–your child will notice.

5. Let Your Kids Step Up to the Plate: If ten-year-old Paige feels shorted on playing time, resist the urge to step in. Instead, ask, “What can you do to earn more playing time?” Role-play how to bring it up with the coach, and then leave the responsibility in her hands.

6. Play the No-blame Game: Institute a no-blame, no-excuses policy for your kids. If 13-year-old Daniel grumbles about a bad call, remind him that like players, referees come with varying skill. Then, since he can’t control the referee or even his teammates, get him thinking about what else he can do to influence the outcome of the game.

7. Call No Fouls: Even if the other team is hurling insults, keep your comments to yourself–and encourage your kids to do the same. Teach your kids not to “trash talk;” their performance on the field will speak for itself. And of course, follow the “Act like you’ve been there before” guideline of being courteous and gracious to your opponent when your team wins.

8. Roll with the Punches: Turn each missed goal, slip-up or foul into a learning opportunity for next time. If your child is upset about missing a tackle, ask, “If you could do that play over again, what would you do differently?” and then move on–your child already feels bad enough and is relying on you to help him make the best of his mistake.

9. Let the Coach Coach: Shouting suggestions from the sidelines is not only not helpful, it leads kids to disrespect their coach. Let the coach do her job, and the whole team will benefit.

10. Be the example you want your kids to follow. You can talk about good sportsmanship, but your kids will clue in on your actions. Model all the behaviors you’re teaching your kids, whether you’re on the couch, on the sidelines or on the basketball court yourself.

And above all – have fun. Extracurricular activities are there to help our kids become more well-rounded and ready for the world. While scores are important, having fun, tuning in to the teaching moments, and fostering a sense of camaraderie, character, and respect are even more significant. Enjoy every minute. They’ll speed by before you know it!

Want to learn more about raising happy and respectful kids of character? Attend one of our free parenting webinars.

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions® and the best-selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on The Doctors, CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.