Most of us here at One with the Water have been athletes in some form or fashion our entire lives, doing the necessary mental and emotional work that comes along with the physical discipline of sports. Many of us can point to coaches and teachers who drilled into our heads the values necessary for good sportsmanship, ethical play, and personal growth on and off the field.
I (Molly) was one of those athletes. So, when it came time to send my tiny humans onto the field of play (and in between the lane lines with our neighborhood swim team), I was excessively confident in my ability to impart those same values to my offspring.
Now, I am a reasonably laid-back individual who encourages grace and kindness in every interaction. Still, it turns out I am far more of a momma bear than I ever anticipated. When it comes to time to sit in the stands, it takes intentional purpose and care to ensure I am modeling ethical values for my children. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of our roles as parents and other significant adults in the lives of our children.
6 ways to promote good values in student-athletes.
To that end, here are six ways we as parents and adults can promote good values in our student-athletes.
- Teach children to respect their opponents and themselves. Teach them to value skill development above winning, to win and lose with dignity, and respect the true spirit of the sport.
- Model these values for your children by encouraging and praising them regardless of the outcome of their competition. Keep positive in the stands as you watch, and speak positively about their opponents once the competition is over.
- Rank respect, personal improvement, integrity, and equity above winning. Remind your children of these priorities regularly. We remind our children often of the fact that there is only winning and learning, and some of the most growth my child incurred as an athlete happened during his time on a truly terrible baseball team.
- Open up a dialogue with your children about the values promoted in their sport/club/training center. Teach them to advocate for the right thing, even when adults around them may be veering off track.
- Emphasize that participation in sport is more about personal growth and developing into the best version of themselves. We teach our swim lessons using growth mindset techniques to drive this home. To learn more about the growth mindset, start here.
- Notice when children take shortcuts or cheat to win and use the situation as an opportunity for learning. Start an (age-appropriate) conversation about ethics and the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. Make it clear that you expect your children to avoid them and compete with integrity. (Source: ASADA Parents Guide to Clean Sport)
Sports can provide a valuable framework for teaching respect, teamwork, growth mindset, work ethic, and a healthy lifestyle. However, if we fail in instilling these values, sport can be a breeding ground for the opposite to occur: cheating, lying, arrogance, and an unhealthy obsession with winning.