Teaching Good Sportsmanship

Teaching Good Sportsmanship February 11, 2014

Over the weekend, the Cub Scouts hosted their annual Pinewood Derby, an event which features homemade wooden cars that race down a track at breakneck speed in the elementary school cafeteria. This was our fourth Pinewood Derby for our son, and even the girls participated this year by making their own cars and racing them in the “semi-pro” division. Good times. Well, I’m not sure if it was the long day spent at the Derby, the high hopes for a winning car, an intense personality, or a combination of all of the above, but a certain 6 year-old could not handle the fact that she did not win a trophy! “But my car won one of the races, Mommy!” she cried in frustration. After trying to calmly explain, over her loud sobs, how the scoring process works, I moved into full-on “If this is how you act after a competition, we won’t be able to participate in these events anymore” mode. Not helpful at that particular moment in time.

In any case, this is not the first time that I have seen this type of behavior from my competitive child, but I was still taken aback. What’s worse is that I still don’t feel like I have been able to get through to her in our follow-up conversations. I have tried to explain that it is important to behave graciously after a competition, whether you win or lose, and whether you were playing a board game, a soccer game, or competing in the Pinewood Derby. I understand that this is partially an issue of maturity and temperament, but I would like to prevent this type of behavior in the future. I would love any thoughts and suggestions, please!

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

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  • J’

    Hmmm…honestly, I’d be at a loss too. Perhaps she is looking at it from a justice standpoint, even though she’s six, e.g. she worked for something, it “paid off”, and thus the natural result (to her six year old self) is that she sees the fruit of her labors…and perhaps then it is easier to see why she’d be upset, although I can understand your wanting to foster graciousness regardless of outcomes. I guess I’m just wondering if any conversation that starts out with an “understanding” of the above and then roll into the, ‘even though you may have won, sometimes we don’t get rewards…” would be a helpful approach that may reach her. I don’t know. Just thinking off the top of my head. I’m probably the wrong person to be writing in with advice!;)

  • I think talking to her beforehand can help, but it is probably just something she will have to outgrow. All three of my oldest children are competitive, the first two more so than the 3rd, and they have gone through a phase where they threw tantrums after losing and gloated after winning. 5-7 seems to be the worst age for it. I think that the best thing you can do is to give her “practice” on how to behave at home. So, for example, have small little competitions with things and work on her behavior in private. But don’t push too much, because honestly, until they are around 7 or 8 it is very difficult for a child to understand how to control the natural competitiveness. It comes much easier as they get older! And there were times when we had to avoid certain situations with our one child as we knew it might lead to a meltdown. I also think team environments can be helpful for kids that are competitive, because they teach that it is a combination of efforts that result in winning or losing, and that they can work to control their own contribution, but don’t have much control over the rest. The best lessons our most competitive kids have learned have come through team sports. Soccer or baseball or even a swimming relay are better for lessons in sportsmanship than an individual swim race or track event. It makes the losing easier, and also gives them much less to gloat about when they win. Team events are also much more like real life than individual sports. They teach the kids how to channel their natural competitive tendencies into success for a group, which is great preparation for both family life and the workplace.