Former volleyball Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings offers her tips for teaching kids to be good sports.
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Whether your kid is playing a board game, trying out for the school play, or stepping onto a sports field, it's crucial for them to learn that things might not always go their way. Kerri Walsh Jennings, three-time Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball and mom of three, shares how to empower kids to be team players.

kids laughing soccer sport
Credit: JW LTD/Getty

Remind Kids of Their Commitments

Your child might want to quit if they aren't good at a game or don't pick upon an activity right away. Be empathetic, and help them understand that they're capable of pursuing anything, even when they think it's hard or boring. Walsh Jennings asks her own kids, "How can you make this tough situation better?" to spark their desire to try again.

Dial Up the Praise

"Encouraging quotes and phrases are my jam!" says Walsh Jennings, whose personal motto on and off the court is "Breathe, believe, battle." Come up with a family motto, and use it whenever your child needs a boost.

headshot olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings
Credit: Courtesy of Kerri Walsh Jennings

Turn Down the Pressure

Perfection is impossible. (Say it again!) Remind your child that it's their job to do their best and try hard. It's okay to hate losing—all champions do—but if they stick with it, they'll improve, and the wins will eventually come to them.

Lead by Example

Always praise the level of play that was brought to the table by your opponents, whether it's in Candy Land or kickball—or the Olympics, Walsh Jennings says. "Losing in the 2016 Olympic semifinals wasn't my favorite moment, but I made sure to learn from it and sincerely congratulate Team Brazil for a match well played."

Try Something New

Encourage your kid to pursue an activity that they enjoy doing—not just something that every other kid in their class is signing up for. "My son, Sundance, loves music, so I encourage him to dance, take piano lessons, and play music-related games, in addition to participating in whatever sport is in season," Walsh Jennings says.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's December 2021 issue as "Teach Your Child to… Lose Gracefully." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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