The importance of teaching children good sportsmanship – win or lose

A sense of humor and learning-centered approach are crucial for fostering healthy competitiveness in sports and games

Learning to lose and win gracefully is crucial for a child’s emotional management.
Learning to lose and win gracefully is crucial for a child’s emotional management.Sally Anscombe (Getty Images)

Games are not merely sources of entertainment for children. They serve as powerful tools for learning and development, allowing them to grow in a playful and age-appropriate manner. However, children often struggle with accepting defeat graciously and may exhibit inappropriate behavior when they win.

This is more significant than it appears, as it relates to a child’s ability to handle frustration when they don’t win or when they place excessive emphasis on winning. “During play, neural connections become strengthened, resulting in the release of dopamine — a neurotransmitter that promotes a sense of well-being. Children need this playful activity for their optimal physical, mental and emotional development,” said María José Lladó, an expert in psychopedagogy, the psychology of education.

However, society often promotes competitive values that emphasize winning at all cost, neglecting the fun in sports and games. “It is crucial to offer children suitable adult role models who can effectively demonstrate the importance of play, highlighting its value beyond mere outcomes,” says Lladó.

It’s important for children to learn how to handle winning and losing while playing. By accepting the outcome of a game — win or lose — they develop valuable life skills like perseverance and maintaining a positive attitude, while also gaining a better understanding of themselves.

Children need to learn how to play fair

To foster a healthy mindset in children, emphasize that games are for learning, not just winning or losing. This discourages cheating and promotes fair play in all aspects of life. “It’s all about having fun in the moment and keeping a positive mindset, even when you lose. Avoid blaming yourself or others if things don’t turn out as hoped,” Lladó advises.

Parents’ attitudes and actions towards their children’s game participation are crucial. “Excessive reward and punishment can promote cheating as a strategy for children to evade consequences. Low self-esteem may exacerbate this tendency, as losing may make them feel inadequate,” says psychologist Gema José Moreno.

Signs that a child struggles with the right way to win and lose

We often talk about being a sore loser, but rarely about being a sore winner, two sides of the same coin. Children must be taught to manage both aspects, as they each have a dark side that may result in unbalanced emotional behavior. “Losing can sometimes make kids angry at other players — they want to find someone to blame, or they might throw a tantrum. But when a child wins, they might laugh derisively and call someone a loser,” says Moreno.

Parents can enhance their children’s learning experiences through play at home. Follow these guidelines from psychologist Gema José Moreno for optimal growth and development.

  1. Spend time playing as a family.
  2. Choose board games that bring people together, generate positive emotions, and promote decision-making, creativity and planning in a safe environment.
  3. Don’t suppress a child’s emotions. If they get upset, allow them to express it and explain that winning and losing are part of life, which promotes better adaptability.
  4. Teach children that they can’t control everything and that sometimes luck is a part of the game. This helps them manage frustration more effectively.
  5. Encourage children to collaborate and engage in healthy competition.
  6. Foster empathy and tolerance by explaining diversity as the unique abilities and skills we all have.
  7. Instill respect by setting a positive example — avoid scolding or insulting the opposite team.
  8. Highlight the fun of the activity and motivate children to give their best without feeling pressured.

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