Good sportsmanship, just like good manners, good grammar and good dress sense, is a learned behaviour. It doesn’t come naturally for most kids and let’s be honest: some adults are still getting the hang of it too! But knowing how to be a good team player – how to interact well with others - is a talent that can make every aspect of our kids’ lives that much easier.
A generation ago, being a good team player was a daily lesson, taught in the school playground and in the after-school games with the neighbourhood kids. If you didn’t learn it quickly, you ended up by yourself and very bored! However with the recent “State of Play” study conducted by Milo finding that children are spending nearly half (47%) of their free time ‘plugged in’ to technology as opposed to playing, and that nearly 1 in 2 Australian kids nowadays don’t find time to play every day, the opportunities to learn good sportsmanship are more limited.
These limited opportunities to play are something that child psychologist and founder of Pathways, Dr Paula Barrett, laments, describing active play as essential for children of all ages to learn important life skills. In the absence, though, of these natural learning environments, parents might need to take on the role of coach and some general tips that can be applied to the sports field, playground, classroom or home are as follows:
Avoid keeping score! A focus on individual score-keeping leads to a focus on individual competitiveness, which in turn can reduce the importance of teamwork. So of course praise your kids when they have a success – but praise them equally for helping their friends to succeed as well.
Knowing how to be a good team player – how to interact well with others - is a talent that can make every aspect of our kids’ lives that much easier.
Mix it up. There is a saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to get a different perspective; for kids it’s about encouraging them to experience things that are outside their normal routine. It may be as simple as swapping chores with someone else or trying a new sport or activity with a friend. Mixing up their daily routines can encourage them to gain that new perspective.
Provide plenty of social support. Another great way to encourage your kids to be good team players is to make sure they have more than one team to play with! Whether it’s through an organised sport, another extra-curricular activity or a neighbourhood posse, try to encourage your children to be involved with more than one social group. Diversity of friends requires diversity of behaviour and this can avoid them falling into a predictable comfort zone.
Get them outdoors! Watching television or playing solitary computer games is not going to teach social skills – so open the door and boot them out! “We have an ethical responsibility,” encourages Dr Barrett, “to prevent future generations of children from developing stunted social and emotional skills due to an over-exposure of ‘screen-time’ and a lack of real life interaction with living beings such as family members, friends and pets in natural environment.”
Reward good behaviour. Reward is a more effective form of influencing behaviour than criticism – something that is easy to forget on a day-to-day basis! Praising your kids when you see them show great team player behaviour - sharing, for example, or turn-taking, or simply helping someone with a task - is a great way to reinforce that behaviour.
Be a good role model! No matter how much time our kids spend at school or with their mates, we know that their main source of influence is right there in their own homes – i.e: us! So try to ensure that you are as welcoming, inclusive, adaptable and easy-going as you would like your kids to be.
Being a good team player has the potential to increase your kids’ confidence and enjoyment, both on the sport field and in the playground, as well as increase their confidence in the classroom and their willingness to learn new things. It is, in short, a fantastic life skill to have.
How do you teach your kids to be good team players? Share with other members on the Essential Kids Forums.