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Compete with Character and Every Game Will be a Victory

​​​​This information is included in our Guide to Youth Sports. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

“Character is formed by doing the thing we are supposed to do, when it should be done, whether we feel like doing it or not.”     - Father Edward Flanagan, Founder of Boys Town

The best athletic atmosphere for young people is one that focuses on their needs and wants and not those of their coaches and parents.  The ideal sport setting is one in which:

  • Good character is a priority.
  • Practices and games are fun.
  • Good sportsmanship and positive behaviors are the norm for players, coaches and spectators.
  • Athletes learn valuable life skills.
  • Coaches and parents are not frustrated.
  • A cooperative and positive relationship exists between coaches and parents.
  • There is good communication between players, coaches and parents.

Coaches and parents need to remember to put kids first.  No matter what level kids are playing at – select or travel team, recreational or club, YMCA or church league, jayvee or varsity – teaching good sportsmanship and forming good character should lead off your lineup.

Adults teach sportsmanship and help build good character by modeling it themselves.  Kids watch how adults act, not just listen to what they say. Unfortunately, children are increasingly exposed to poor behavior on the playing field in professional and other televised sports, teams against whom they compete, overzealous coaches on the sidelines, unruly parents in the stand … even on the playground at school. 

Parents and coaches are ideally placed to counteract these poor examples of sportsmanship. Consider the following list:

Sportsmanship To-Do List

  • Model appropriate behavior.
  • Discuss examples of poor sportsmanship when they occur.
  • Discuss ways to exhibit good sportsmanship (e.g., helping opponents up after they have fallen).
  • Reinforce that winning is not the sole goal of sports (e.g., ask kids if they had fun or performed something well before asking if they won).
  • Offer examples of how players can be good winners and losers.
  • Encourage kids to discuss sportsmanship as a team; make it a key objective of the team’s success.
  • Talk to the coach to make sure he or she stresses sportsmanship over winning, too.

*Adapted from Competing ​with Character: Let’s Put Sportsmanship and Fun Back in Youth Sports , by Kevin Kush, M.A., with Michael Sterba, M.H.D., Boys Town Press.

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