How to Teach Young Athletes Sportsmanship

Education, Home & Family
on April 18, 2004

Parents and coaches play a critical role in teaching sportsmanship. Dr. Jack Llewellyn, an Atlanta-based sports psychology consultant for major league and amateur athletes, recommends that parents and coaches work together to promote mutual respect among impressionable young athletes.

“Most people don’t understand the concept of sportsmanship,” Llewellyn says. “They think that if you win, you’re humble; and if you lose, so what. Sportsmanship is learning how to accept winning and also how to accept losing. It’s basically learning how to respect other people’s talent.”

Former Green Bay Packers linebacker Brian Noble, now head coach of the Green Bay Blizzard Arena Football League team, feels the demise of sportsmanship is an outcropping of society itself.

“When kids watch athletes today, they see millionaires disrespecting other millionaires,” Noble says. “I’m coaching guys who are trying to be professionals, but I will not allow that here (showboating, trash talking). I will not stand for guys taunting and disrespecting their opponent. So much of what we grew up with was about ‘team.’ The team wasn’t better because you were part of it, you were better because you were a part of the team.”

In his book Let ’em Play, Llewellyn cites ways in which good sportsmanship can be recaptured.

“It should go back to the basic levels,” he says. “Kids learn from adults. If when a kid loses we can take him aside right then and sit down and talk about something he or she did well, that’s the best way to deal with it. ‘You caught the ball in the outfield. Sure you threw it to third. It was the wrong base, but you still caught the ball. And you’ve got to do that before you throw it. We can work on throwing it. But you caught the ball and that’s a great thing.’ Then kids learn to have a good time and learn to have fun.”

Below are a few suggestions—and reminders—for how coaches and parents can promote good sportsmanship among young athletes:

  • Coaches should go beyond teaching a game’s basic skills.
  • Parents should understand that coaches are trying to teach skills useful in life and sports.
  • Parents and coaches should meet periodically and maintain an open dialogue.
  • Young athletes should be taught off positive—not negative—experiences and be reminded that not all behaviors they see in the media are acceptable.
  • Players should be taught to commend the other team or player after a good play and line up after contests for handshakes.