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7 Ground Rules of Good Sportsmanship

The advantage of marrying a musician is that musicians don’t really care enough about professional sports to lose every weekend to a giant television screen. For years, that's proved true. Sure, my husband tuned in when the Red Sox had enough wins to make it count, or when the Patriots were on their way to the Big Game.

But the rest of the season? Not so much.

This year, everything changed. Our 6-year-old car-loving, piano-playing introverted son suddenly took an interest in football. Given that we are New Englanders living in Los Angeles, he quickly took on the role of super fan for the Patriots. So you can imagine the excitement leading up to the Super Bowl.

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I won’t lie: our son looks cute in his Brady shirt. He jumps up and down when the score looks good and gets tears in his eyes when the chips are down. More often than not, I pull him away from the emotional roller coaster and update him on the scores later. Being a super fan is emotionally taxing at best.

The biggest problem I found during this football season, however, was not the emotions on game day. The biggest problem was a complete lack of sportsmanship. I’m not talking about the fallout from the annoyingly titled “deflategate” or even the taunts during and after the game on both sides (though, please, Tom Brady, lead your team to the high road next time). I’m talking about the behavior I witnessed from kids and adults leading up to and following Super Bowl Sunday.

Yes, we are Patriots fans living in hostile territory. And, no, I don’t follow the backstory closely enough to understand why some people have such a strong dislike for the Patriots. What I do know for certain, however, is that good sportsmanship begins at home. Whether you coach your child’s team or expose them to professional sports on the weekends, you provide that first glimpse into what it means to be a good sport. That first glimpse sets the stage for how your child will behave in the future.

My kids wore their Patriots shirts to school the day after the Super Bowl. More than anything else, they want others to understand them, to know that although they were both born in Santa Monica, the think of Connecticut as home. The truth is, they split their time on both coasts, and their Connecticut roots are important to them.

They were greeted with poor sportsmanship that day. Other kids yelled, “The Patriots are cheaters! They deflate footballs!” Or, “The Patriots still stink!” My kids were shocked. It wouldn’t occur to them to say anything like that to another person.

They were also a little bit hurt.

As I responded with kind words and assured my kids that the Patriots played their best on Sunday, it occurred to me that it might be time for a little kindergarten refresher on what it means to be a good sport. Let's review:

1. Always be friendly

You don’t have to be friends with every person you encounter, but you should be friendly. Smile. Give a compliment. Start a conversation. Sometimes in life we find friends in unlikely places. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a lifelong friendship because you were too competitive to stop and say hi, would you?

2. Use kind words

Words are powerful. Words can heal suffering. But words can also cause great harm. It’s important to choose your words carefully and mean what you say. Never use unkind words in the heat of emotion; you will only regret it later.

3. Make good choices

It’s hard to lose. It’s hard to fail. And it’s even hard when a team you’re rooting for comes up short. The difference between good sports and poor sports is how they handle both the win and the loss.

Always hold your head up high and choose to be kind, no matter the outcome.

4. Play fair

Cheating isn’t fair. Calling a timeout in the middle of a game of tag isn’t the right thing to do, even if you really, really don’t want to be tagged.

Playing fair shows others that you respect and care about them.

5. Keep your hands to yourself

Hitting isn’t nice and violence is never the answer. Learn to cope with your frustration so that you can play without hitting, pushing, tripping or bullying.

6. Take responsibility for your actions

We all make less than perfect choices at times. That’s human nature. Sometimes we let competition get in the way of friendship. Other times we lash out in frustration. Take responsibility for your actions. Apologize for your mistakes. Be forgiving when others apologize for theirs.

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7. Show empathy for others

In sports and in life, we all work hard. We all face both disappointment and success at times. Have empathy for others. Show them that you understand with your words and your actions. Be the kind of person who makes the world a friendlier place.

Good sportsmanship doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience and frequent conversations. While I wish that our highly paid professional athletes would choose to be role models of good sportsmanship, the truth is that being a good sport begins at home.

It’s on us, fellow parents. We can do this.

Image via Twenty20/LindseyHannah

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