Nobody likes to lose- but imagine those uncomfortable and overwhelming emotions as an early learner. Typical unsportsmanlike behavior for children involves kicking, screaming, crying and maybe even a dramatic exit. Siblings or classmates can often make these breakdowns even worse by being bad winners. However, there are strategies that parents and early educators can use to turn these sore losers and bad winners into great sports!
Don’t Fake It: Today it may be losing a board game or soccer match, but eventually it could be losing a promotion on the new job. Losing is a part of reality and not something we should sugar coat for your learners. Remind your children that everyone loses and that it is important to accept that not everything is going to be perfect and that you won’t win every time.
Make It A Learning Experience: Encourage your little one to learn from their mistakes. Each loss presents an opportunity to learn, more so than winning. So instead of dwelling on the loss, focus on the areas where they can improve.
Don’t Focus on Winning: If the main objective of the activity or game your child is involved in is winning, they will end up being disappointed numerous times. Instead, aim to direct your child’s focus on improving a certain skill in each activity in which they participate. If it’s soccer, focus on just dribbling and passing skills. As they improve over time, work on more complex skills. Improving is always a reason to celebrate.
Talk It Out: Your child will inevitably get upset about a loss or failure and may not know how to control themselves. Young learners haven’t figured out how to express their big feelings into words and will need your help articulating their emotions verbally. Remind them that it is okay to be upset sometimes- but that it is also just a game!
Never Cheat: Young learners often try to manipulate the situation so they can win- they pretend they didn’t get a turn, make up a new set of rules, or accuse the opponent of cheating. Additionally, kids this age typically expect things to work in their favor, which makes it seem like something or somebody is “not fair” when they don’t win. Remind your children that it is important to follow rules, take turns, play nicely together and that each mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Be Humble: Winning is fun- but it can also breed egotism and bad behavior like taunting and mocking the losing team. Being a bad winner is arguably worse than being a sore loser. Remind your little one that being a good winner involves shaking the opponents hand and respecting their effort!
Be an Example: Your children are constantly watching your behaviors- so it is important to model good sportsmanship at all times. Young learners need to see their parents, guardians and educators effectively live out being a gracious loser or winner.
Overall, preschoolers tend to think that if they play to win, then they should win, and that makes it hard to come to terms with losing. However, the goal is to remind children that you’re playing to have fun- and that winning doesn’t equal being good and losing doesn’t equal being bad. Losing gracefully and winning modestly can be hard lessons to teach, but with the simple tips above, your child can learn to do both like a champ.
Pennington, C. (2017). Moral Development and Sportsmanship in Physical Education and Sport. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. 88(9), 36-42.