When Good Athletes Are Bad Sports
When you’ve got teens in sports, there are moments when your child makes a really good play and you feel nothing but pride. And there are those moments – when the poor sportsmanship displayed on the field is your child, and you want to crawl under the bleachers from shame and embarrassment.
With four teens in various sports, we’ve experienced this scene more than once. How do you handle the situation so it becomes a positive learning experience rather than a big, huge mess?
- Get control of your own emotions. You might be angry at your child, the coach, referees or other parties involved. Embarrassment will be a close second and can damage relationships with your child or others if not handled properly. Take a deep breath, assess the situation, and talk yourself into responding calmly to your child or coach after the game is over.
- Try to understand where your child’s lack of self-control, anger, or attitude is coming from.
- Is it part of their character you’re already working on?
- Is it coming from conflict with teammates or the coach?
- Is their behavior directed towards themself? Are they discouraged with themselves and their performance?
- Are there other stressors in their life affecting them when they’re under pressure (grades, other relationships, self-esteem, etc?)
- Talk to your athlete about the source of their anger or frustration. Help them put words to their emotions by asking some of the questions above. Teens and preteens often respond in anger when underlying emotions are frustration, stress, anxiety, discouragement or unfairness. Once the root cause of their behavior is identified, work with them to develop healthy ways to respond to the problem.
- Don’t blame others, but help your child take responsibility for their actions. It’s a normal temptation to protect your child from unfair decisions or competitive relationships in sports. Passing the blame for your child’s behavior doesn’t help them with the situation or in life. It’s natural to want to blame someone when your child acts out. However, life and character lessons are learned when:
- both you and your child acknowledge the inappropriate behavior.
- you talk with your child about how it could’ve been handled differently.
- you give your child other strategies to control their emotions.
- your child makes restitution or apologies where needed with appropriate teammates or coaches.
- you allow natural consequences.
- If your child is benched for a game, support the coach’s decision.
- If discipline is appropriate, take away a privilege–like phone or driving privileges–that impacts their personal life so they understand their public and private behavior is important.
- Get over it and move on. Although the incident is embarrassing and can be a big deal in the moment, your child needs to know there is always another game or practice to correct their behavior. They need to receive your forgiveness, have an opportunity to do better, and know you still believe in them. Also, accept the fact that your child can act that way. Our kids aren’t perfect and they will mess up.
I’ve watched a lot of sports in my career as teacher, coach, and parent. As your child corrects their behavior and moves on, coaches and fans will see the best in them and what they bring to the field or court. More importantly, your child learns lessons about responsibility, self-control, relationships and life.
True story–last year my teen was thrown out of a varsity ballgame. He learned. This year he was a mentor to younger teammates, received the MVP, and is will be playing basketball in college.
What are ways your child has been helped by adversity in a sport or school activity? What are lessons your kids have learned because they’ve been responsible for their behavior and actions? We’d love to hear your experiences.