Let’s All Cheer for Team Spirit

Photo credit: Steve Baker/Flickr

Photo credit: Steve Baker/Flickr

Two, four, six, eight
Who do we appreciate?
The [opponents’ team name] !!


Anyone who’s played, or coached, or just watched youth sports has heard that cheer. The idea behind it is a good one: the winning team is thanking the opponents they just beat for having playing hard and done their best.

It’s also a subtle reminder to winning teams that how you win can be as important as whether you win. Insulting or humiliating your opponents simply isn’t acceptable, and neither is cheating or playing dirty. Being on a team that plays with integrity makes players feel good about themselves, helps bring them together, and builds team spirit.

That last part, building team spirit, is easier said than done.

A and ZWhen kids are very young, one of the primary goals of youth sports is to make whatever they’re involved in so much fun that they want to come back and do it again next year. Sure, people talk about winning, and the majority of coaches and parents support that goal by emphasizing sportsmanship, skill building, self-improvement, and teamwork. One of my favorite things about my daughters’ swim team is the emphasis on best times. There have been a number of instances when she’d ask me right after a race what place she’d come in, and I’ve had no idea. But I could always tell her whether she’d made a new best time.
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Sure, Winning is Great, but Good Sportsmanship is More Than That

We often hear that “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” In a perfect world, that might be true. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And there’s no question that it feels a lot better at the end of a game to have won rather than lost.

But there’s a big difference between “winning” and “winning at any cost.”

Z backstrokeMy 12-year-old daughter has played softball, basketball, volleyball, and been a competitive swimmer for several years. And I’ve been involved in competitive sports for as long as I can remember, playing Little League, lettering in swimming and baseball in high school, competing in martial arts, and playing in adult softball leagues. Over that time, I’ve seen plenty of examples of good—and bad—sportsmanship.

In one basketball game this past year, my daughter’s 6th-grade team was getting slaughtered by a taller, faster, older, and more skilled team. We were down something like 20-4 at the half and there was clearly no way we were going to make it close. So I was surprised that at the start of the second half, the opposing coach continued to play his starters. His players kept stealing the ball, blocking shots, running plays, picking and rolling, and widening their lead. I honestly don’t remember what the score was at the end—and I honestly don’t care.

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True story of great sportsmanship in action

Anyone who’s ever played a sport has heard the expression, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” A lovely sentiment, but not one that every young athlete truly takes to heart.

But this movie, The Home Run, (don’t worry, it’s only 7 minutes long) depicts an amazing, true story of sportsmanship and courage that beautifully illustrates how it really is how you play the game that matters most.

If you’ve got a child who’s competing in sports, you played yourself, or you just want a great story, don’t miss this. And if you’re a coach, send it to everyone on your team–and to the other coaches as well.

A warning: this is a real tear-jerker, so grab some Kleenex before you settle in. And be sure to watch all the way to the end.

In case you missed it, here’s the link again.


Sports Dreams

Dear Mr. Dad: My nine-year old son has no interest in practicing sports. He says he wants to play in games but cringes whenever I mention that he need to go to practices too. I’ve been frustrated at his lack of interest and want to encourage him, but I don’t want to turn him off of sports. How can I approach this situation?

A: It’s great that you’re so conscious of the risk of turning your son off of sports, which is a very real possibility.

Sports for kids are great for a number of reasons. They teach valuable lessons about teamwork and the importance of sticking with things—even if in the face of losing. They also can teach good sportsmanship. A few weeks ago, my nephew’s soccer team was slaughtering their opponents. At the half, his coach got the team together and told them not to score any more goals, but to work on passing and ball control instead. What a wonderful lesson.

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