Our sons have just started their first Football season. And we have thoroughly enjoyed watching them learn this new and foreign game. To be honest, I still have no clue how it works… but at least dad is there to give some “rules-of-the-game” support.

They’ve had a pretty good season so far, having won every game except the most recent one (even though at this age we don’t really keep score… right, who doesn’t keep score?). But seriously, more so than winning, what I’ve enjoyed most is watching my boys learn how to be part of a team and grow in their confidence around others. Thankfully for us, we have the most amazing coach who always tells the team that it is all about fun and supporting each other.

Sadly, I couldn’t make the most recent game (teething 1 year old), so there was a steady stream of photos coming through from my husband. When the guys got home there was the usual round of high fives and “Good Game” pats on the Back. Then my husband  told me a story about our little 5 yo… During the game, the opposition (who, I might add, beat our team by miles) got a touchdown. So my little Superhero ran up to their coach and gave him a High Five… Say what?! Firstly, SUPER PROUD MOM. Secondly, what makes a 5 yo think of that?

Anyway, I just wanted to eat him up after that! and it got me thinking? How do we raise good sportsman? How do we teach that winning, giving your best and pushing yourself to be the best you can be is important,  AS WELL AS, showing kindness, empathy and  how to uplift not just another person but an opponent!? How do we raise our kids to become the kind sportsmen and women who honor the sport they play by their good character.

Well, this is my list of things that I would want my kids to know. Let me know what you think?

1.Teaching what it means to be humble in defeat

Let’s be honest, losing sucks! It’s never fun being on the losing team! But, such is life… Sometimes we lose. And I believe that it is so important to teach our kids that even in losing, we must maintain a level of self-respect. And respect for others (team-mates and opponents, coaches, referees, supporters). You were beaten, deal with it; congratulate the other team, and move on. Be humble enough to admit the fact that there will always be someone better than you (no matter how good you are, there is always someone out there who can beat you), and it’s only a matter of time before you meet them on the sports-field; learn to consider it a privilege to play against a player or team better then you; and give them the credit they deserve for beating you. (Then remind them that you will likely meet again, and you promise to be even better next time round – so they’d better be ready.)

2. Teaching what it means to be gracious in victory

It’s so easy to get carried away by the emotions of winning… celebrating can be intoxicating, and when we find ourselves in the throes if victory we tend to go blind to the person or team we beat.The best kind of winner is the one who is able to acknowledge their opponent, and give them due respect by thanking them for the privilege of playing the game with them. Make no mistake, the point of competing is to win – but we must always remember that without an opponent there would be no game in the first place.

3. Parents & Kids to show Respect for teammates, coaches, referees, and opposing team

Much of points 1 & 2 can be summarized under the simple word “respect”… we need to respect everyone involved in the game; and our kids will not learn this by themselves. Our kids watch our every move. If they see or hear us disrespecting the coaches, parents, referees and players, they will follow suit and display the same behavior. We as parents need to teach respect for the game, and the people involved in it.

4. Being a team player – behavior is reflected back to team – Always stay calm

Whenever our children “lose” their cool (which, lets be honest, as a sportsman or woman happens fairly easily) it is important that they know how to deal with that emotion. Feed it into playing harder, giving your all. Not to react in a negative way that might reflect badly on the team and their coach. No team member ever makes a mistake on purpose, and it’s only a matter of time before you will make a mistake of your own, so give that team member a hand back up and be sure to let them know that you’re in it together.

5. Always play Fair

No matter what happens in the game, it is important to NEVER cheat. That is just not an option! There are rules for a reason. And, in my opinion, if the rules cannot be followed, then the game should not be played… Playing by the rules reflects integrity and self-respect! Our kids need to know that… There is never a need to cheat (see point 1). It goes against the grain of the very nature of sport, and reveals poor judgement. This is such an important aspect of being a good sportsman. Simple honesty, and respect for the rules of the game.

6. Encourage Team Members

Being able to put your teammates before yourself reveals character. Sometimes our teammates need to be encouraged and inspired. Maybe the opposition needs a little encouragement or a pat on the back when an injury occurs. Kindness goes a long way!

7. End of game ritual, shake everyone’s hand

There is nothing better than watching two teams walk up to each other and shake hands. No matter how grueling or intense the game was. It’s the right thing to do!

So hopefully by trying to teach my children these vital points, they will become the sportsmen and women I know and believe they can be!