Kids in Sports, Part 3: What Promotes Sportspersonship?

When parents sign their children up to participate in sports, one of their hopes is that their child will learn to be a “good sport”. Unfortunately, this lesson is not always taught due to either a coach who has not been properly trained or a parent-spectator who displays negative behaviours. Many of us have had good and not so good experiences in this respect.

In 2007, Researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Missouri and University of Notre Dame studied the social and personal influences on youth sportspersonship. Close to 700 kids from fifth to eight grade were studied. There were several key findings from the report.  Using self-report measures, the researchers found that from fifth to eight grade the level of unsportspersonlike behaviour steadily increased. This is problematic as it suggests that the sports culture kids grow up in teaches them to be more unsportspersonlike as they age. The study also found that coaches, teammates, parents and spectators all exert an influence on the display of sportspersonlike behaviour. More specifically, the study found that it was a coach’s behaviour, and not attitude, that gave kids the signal about which behaviours are to be expected or tolerated. Interestingly, the same relationship was found with spectators. That is, the misbehaviour of parent-spectators gives kids powerful cues as to what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Research has also shown that when parents become over-identified with their child’s team, they are more likely to be aggressive. Lastly, the study found that kids felt that their own misbehaviour increases the unsportsmanlike behaviour of their teammates. Overall, the research confirms that coaches and parent-spectator behaviours have a significant impact on whether, and to what extent, kids display unsportsmanlike behaviour. Coaches and parent-spectators have this power due to their ability to control the context within which kids play sports.

Parents and coaches need to model appropriate behaviour. There must be zero tolerance for abusive behaviour (i.e., demeaning or violent behaviour) whether it be from the coaches, parents, or the kids themselves. Positive involvement from parents includes attending games, emphasizing teamwork, appreciation for the accomplishments of opponents, adherence to the rules of the game, an emphasis on effort and skills development, and modeling of pro-social appropriate behaviour. Above all else, respect for oneself and one’s opponent needs to be modeled and taught.

For more information on how parents can become involved in a positive way in their child’s sporting activities go to www.respectinsport.com.

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