How parents can help their child be a better sport.

Q. My 12-year-old son is on multiple teams -- baseball, soccer, hockey, you name it. Yet despite all the time he's spent on fields, he's a terribly sore loser. I've seen him push and yell at his teammates when bad plays were made; he sometimes gets violent with his younger brother when the two of them practice at home. Off the field, though, he's a calm and well-behaved boy. I don't want to tell his coaches how to coach, but what can I do?

A. Poor sportsmanship is not okay. In fact, one the benefits of being involved with a sports team is learning the rules and expectations of losing and winning with grace, supporting team members, and playing for the team rather than for individual glory.

It's time to have a conversation with the coach to set some hard-and-fast guidelines for your son's inappropriate behavior on the field and sidelines. It's important for the coach to know that you're okay with him telling your son that he's completely out of line when he pushes or yells at teammates.

Discuss with your son the consequences of his violating the "no pushing or yelling" rule: The game will be over for him. A few exits from game play will likely teach him to control his emotions and the accompanying negative behavior.

If he were younger you wouldn't be drawing such a hard-and-fast line in the parenting and coaching sand, but at age 12 such behavior is completely unacceptable.

Off-the-Field Sportsmanship

The same goes for violence toward his brother. The minute it starts, step in and stop their practice time. Step between your sons, assume control of the situation, stop the altercation, and see that they stay separated. That's all you need to do, no further punishment is required. By doing so you're driving home the point that when you display unsportsmanlike conduct, game time or practice time is over.

Whether on the playing field or in the backyard, he'll likely be mad when he's kept from practicing or playing the game. Stay with him until he cools down. Don't explain the situation during the heat of the moment but when driving in the car or during dinner explain that a good sport:

  • Offers encouragement to teammates. Help your son be the team cheerleader by supporting the efforts of even the weakest player. Explain to your son that in order for each player to develop his abilities each needs the chance to get out on the field and play.
  • Is a team player. Explain that his behavior on the field and on the sidelines reflects on the entire team. It will likely be tough for him to grasp the idea that he's expected to play his best as a responsibility to the team and that if he or another player goofs up, it's not appropriate to purge his emotions -- doing so brings embarrassment not only to him but to the entire team.
  • Doesn't gloat. Further explain that if he scores the most points for a win, the victory goes to the entire team and is not for his individual glory.

It may take time your son time to acquire all the attributes of being a good sport. Nevertheless, when he pushes or yells at teammates, he needs to be removed from the game. It's surprising that coaches have allowed him to behave this way. At age 12, your son's behavior is simply intolerable: You, along with your son's coaches, will serve him well on and off the field by squelching this behavior immediately.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on, October 2006.

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