Ask the Experts: Sportsmanship

We asked local experts to weigh in on their tips for raising good sports.

Adam Zodrow : My approach to sportsmanship when it comes to my son is still a work in progress. I have a competitive streak in me that sometimes gets me in trouble. I want my son to find a healthy balance and to be his best if he commits to something, even a recreation sport. Not necessarily because I want him to be a “winner” but because I want him to feel the satisfaction of working hard to achieve something and better himself. I also want him to be the kind of leader that humbly expects that of teammates and helps them rise to the challenge. One approach I’ve taken often comes across as “mean-spirited” but I honestly feel that it is starting to have a positive impact on our son. Put simply: I don’t let him win just because he is my son. If we race, I beat him. If we shoot baskets, I’ll make more than he does. It’s not because I want to take the opportunity to belittle him, it’s because I want to teach him that there will always be someone better than him at a sport, a hobby, an instrument, etc. Learning to lose now, to someone who is clearly more experienced, will teach him to be a gracious loser AND a gracious winner once he develops the talents and skills for himself. I want losing to be as much a part of sports as winning for him. That being said, I’ll let him get one over on me every once in a while, I’m not a MONSTER! 

Adam is a writer and content strategist for Traction Marketing, here in OKC. He also travels as a National Teacher Consultant for Catapult Learning, serving schools all over the world. Adam spent 11 years working in public schools as a classroom teacher, administrator and library/media specialist. He and his wife Lindsay own Collected Thread in the Plaza District and are the proud parents of Noah (4) and Finn (1). 

Courtney Chandler: Whether a game of Candy Land, who can run to the car the fastest or a big debate, good sportsmanship can be utilized in a variety of settings.  This quality of character teaches children how to build resiliency, to “bounce back” after a unwanted result. It builds character in our children by teaching the respect to say “good game”, even after a loss.  Encourage children to focus on what they did well, and give praise for how they played.  Encourage children to be a team player and to praise their teammates and opponents on a game well played.  Modeling good sportsmanship for children is important for learning to play fair, respectfully and with humility.  Good sportsmanship comes from supporting everyone around and helps children learn the patience to work through difficult situations. 

Courtney Chandler is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy and play therapist working for Sunbeam Family Services, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma City. Courtney is passionate about the power of play therapy and enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families

Trudy Ruminer: Honoring your teen’s appropriate developmental need for independence and trusting their decision-making can be a daunting task for most parents. At times, this challenge can feel much like walking a tight rope, naked with no safety net. As parents, we have a strong innate tendency toward protecting our children from harm and discomfort at any cost. Ideally, we start the process of teaching our child about cause and effect from the first sign of the little angels asserting their independence. If we gradually, as developmentally appropriate, allow our children the gift of making thousands of affordable mistakes that result in the occasional scraped knee and bruised ego at every stage, these mistakes turn into wonderful learning experiences. Allowing your child to make affordable mistakes all along the way takes practice, patience and possibly a few sleepless nights. With as much courage as you can possibly muster, allow your teen the freedom to make choices for themselves even if some of the choices have minor disaster written all over them. Then, here comes the hard part folks, let your teen learn from those mistakes by not coming to their immediate rescue. Of course some things are non-negotiable such as not wearing a seat belt, texting while driving and feeding the neighbor’s rabid dog. In these instances, every parent should exercise their God given right to take the keys away, turn the cell phone off and insist their teen get a rabies vaccination. 

Trudy Ruminer is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical director and owner of True North Therapeutic Solutions, an outpatient mental health agency in Oklahoma City. Trudy is mother to four adult children and the proud grandmother to one. She draws her knowledge not only from her own personal parenting experiences, but also from her years of experience working closely with families. 


Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: The percentage of high school athletes who go on to compete on the college level ranges from roughly 2 to 12 percent depending upon the sport. Only a small fraction of those young adults will compete on the Olympic level. Presenting these numbers is not intended to crush dreams, but rather to help parents take a step back before deciding how to approach sports in your children's lives.

In addition to contributing to physical health, children learn many important skills when participating in sports. Developing good sportsmanship is one of those important skills. You can even help your child begin to learn good sportsmanship during family games. You are an important model for how to handle winning and losing gracefully. Some children seem more competitive by nature so it will be important to help them focus on skill building rather than just the win. 

While it feels great to have a child who is the star of the team, sports also have much to teach our children about when and how to step back to play a supporting role and stand by to cheer on others from the sidelines. All of these skills will serve them well throughout life. Just as you would praise your children's efforts on the court, let them know you are proud of how they handle the game respectfully. Currently, my daughters are playing volleyball. I lettered in volleyball in high school so this means that my role is:  to keep my mouth shut during practices, trust the coach to coach and cheer during the games while withholding any helpful tips. Perhaps the most important step in cultivating good sportsmanship in our children is to display it ourselves and fulfill our role (not the coach's or referee's) to the best of our ability.

Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas. 


Madison Clark: Teenagers need independence to grow and prepare for adulthood, but it can be very scary for parents to let them have the freedom necessary to mature. I believe the key to nurturing a teen into making smart choices is an open and honest relationship with their parents. When children are young, we talk to them about the importance of not running out into the street or talking to strangers. These same conversations need to continue with our teen children about different dangers: driving, drugs, alcohol, relationship safety, etc. It is much better for parents to prepare for these dangers and come up with plans, than to allow them to explore the possibilities on their own. When I was a teenager, my parents had a rule that I could call them at any time if I felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and they would pick me up. They promised to stay in the car and gave me a free pass from getting into trouble for being in the situation in the first place. So often teenagers get into situations where they feel they have no way out and they continue down a scary path. Each child is so different, so I believe rules and expectations need to adapt to the child’s personality, history of behavior, decision-making skills and what you know about their friend group. In the end, it is important to help teens slowly gain independence, but you have to judge how much they can handle at a given time. 

Madison Clark is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist in private practice in Norman. She specializes in working with families with young children, ages 0-6. She has extensive training in play therapy and enjoys watching parents connect with their children through play. 


Jim Priest: As parents, my wife and I followed the general motto of “try to say ‘yes’ as much as possible.” We tried to reserve our “no” for important and rare occasions. But in saying “yes” we talked through both the decision-making process, how they were making the decision, as well as the possible and likely outcomes of the decision. Sometimes we let them try something that we were pretty sure would fail. They learned from their mistakes.

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 109-year-old non-profit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma’s most vulnerable people. Jim and his wife, Diane, have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, Amanda and Spencer and are owned by a dog named Jeter.


Greg Gunn:  A player who has mastered good sportsmanship knows his value, sees others as valuable and has developed the ability to rise above emotions. Make sure your child knows your love for them is not determined by their performance, by responding with support and encouragement, no matter what happens, no matter who is to blame.

Model empathy in many different situations, and celebrate when your child helps another player succeed, especially if it costs them the spotlight. When kids see others as important, they will play with that in mind. When your child does not want to play fair or trash talks a teammate or an opponent, ask why they are behaving in such a way and help them think through how it makes the other person feel. Explore the reasons behind the behavior, correcting as necessary, addressing the heart before punishing the actions.

Kids must learn how to rise above their emotions. Explain to your child that feelings are not wrong, and many times they are completely justified. By equipping your child with the tools to handle their emotions, you give them a better chance at having a good attitude for the majority of a game.

Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations. 


Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: 

Travel to any youth sporting event and you will see a range of “sportsmanship” among the parents. The savvy sports mom and dad understand that there is more at stake than just a game. Opportunities for leadership, risk-taking, working with difficult people and managing stress are part of every sport. Remember that children pay attention to what we do over what we say, the most important message you will ever give your child about sports is in your attitude. Attitudes are contagious.

Here are some ways you can be a good role model for sportsmanship in your family:

1.      Emphasize effort over wins. When you are watching sports on television, or attending a game, deliver the message that winning is only one part of the game.

2.      Show the coaches and the trainers respect. There will be times that you disagree with a call or with feedback from the coaches. Get calm before speaking to your child about the situation so you can demonstrate respectful communication.

3.      Encourage persistence. Spend time with your child during practice. When the going gets tough, help your child get a fresh perspective that will go the distance.

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.  

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