One of the most important lessons parents can teach their children is how to play fair and follow the rules of sports etiquette.
Summer term is here and school children all over the country are gearing up for the annual test of strength, stamina and dexterity that is otherwise known as Sports Day.
From tears over dropped (rubber) eggs, to twisted ankles, sunburn and squabbles at the finish line, it is easy for tempers to fray as the rules of good sportsmanship fly out the window.
Following some simple Sports Day etiquette rules will ensure that there are more smiles than tears when the winning team is announced. So before you limber up to take your place for the parents’ race, have a read of our guide to sports and games etiquette.
1. Set a good example
Children learn by watching everyone around them, especially their parents, so it is important that you model good sports day etiquette. Accusing little Tarquin of cheating in the sack race is not good form, even if you did see him shove Arabella out of the way. Remember that you are there as a spectator and let the teachers deal with any fallings-out or disciplinary issues.
Do not be the overbearing parent, barking instructions and words of ‘encouragement’ from the sideline. Events such as Sports Day can bring back memories from our own school days, which we then transfer onto our children. Just because you came first in every race, it doesn’t necessarily follow that your child will do the same. Make Sports Day an enjoyable experience by refraining from putting undue pressure on him or her.
2. Celebrate small victories
Try to encourage your child to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. If she comes last in the egg and spoon race but manages to cross the finish line without dropping the egg, comment on her fantastic sense of balance.
Helping children to see a situation in a more positive light, even if they did not achieve the desired outcome, helps build resilience and a growth mindset. It also teaches them that, while we cannot control all life events, we can control our emotional responses and reactions.
3. Embrace the competitive element
“It’s not about winning, its about taking part” has become somewhat of a cliché, often espoused by those who want to remove the competitive element of Sports Day. However, a survey by Families Online showed that only 14% of parents were in favour of non-competitive sports days.
Competition is a necessary part of life, whether we are competing for places at the best schools and universities or trying to outshine other candidates to secure our dream job. Exposing children to competitiveness at a young age will help prepare them for life after education where ‘taking part’ simply isn’t enough.
Research shows that the more successful schools are those where the headteachers recognise that competitive sport can build a positive ethos and even improve grades. Sports Day also highlights the importance of playing by the rules and working as a team .
4. Do not be a sore loser…
Unfortunately, you cannot always win but what is important is that you learn from the experience and apply it in the future. Sports Day is an opportunity for us to show children how to gracefully accept defeat in sports or games. Learning how to manage expectations will benefit them later in life when they encounter challenges in their personal or professional lives.
Petulant behaviour such as storming off, throwing things in anger or bursting into tears should be avoided. Children should also refrain from badmouthing the winner or denouncing the race or event as “unfair”. Instead, practice good sports etiquette by congratulating the winning team with a ‘Well done’ and a genuine smile.
5.… or an overbearing winner
It is just as important to be a gracious winner as it is to be a gracious loser. Obviously children should be allowed to take pride in their accomplishments but over-the-top displays of celebration can make them seem insensitive and arrogant.
Developing a sensitive awareness of other people’s feelings is key to good Sports Day etiquette. Remind your child to be modest and not to brag about their victory or gloat over the other participants. They should also say thank you to everyone who congratulates them and acknowledge the efforts of their teammates.
6. Teamwork makes the dream work
While individual efforts should be celebrated, Sports Day is also an ideal opportunity for children to work together as a team. Encourage your child to cheer on their teammates and take pride in being part of a group with a common goal.
You may also need to remind them not to berate those children who are slower or less co-ordinated than others. They are all in it together and it is not acceptable sportsmanship to single anyone out as a scapegoat for the team not winning.
Learning how to work within a team is a great skill to learn at a young age Sports Day activities such as relay races and tug-of-war show that sometimes you need teammates and peers to be successful.
Some Final Thoughts on Sports & Games Etiquette
Following the rules of sports etiquette helps children to develop good sportsmanship, which will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. Playing by the rules, refraining from cheating and displaying a positive attitude are universal concepts that are valued both on and off the sports field.
If approached in the right way, events like Sports Day build qualities such as respect, resilience and perseverance. When your child picks themselves up and dusts themselves off after falling over in the sack race or thanks their team members after winning the relay race, they are developing the building blocks for a successful future.