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Positive Attitudes in the Face of Competition

Too much time focused on winning and competing can distract from other important aspects of coaching young athletes. Teaching good sportsmanship and promoting respect for opponents often gets overlooked, but these are just as important to developing life skills. Coaches should be proactive about the conduct of their athletes and consider these four methods for promoting positive attitudes in the face of competition.  

Demonstrate Good Behavior in Words and Actions

When talking to your team about an upcoming opponent, be sure to describe them as real people instead of a faceless enemy. While many coaches like to demonize an opponent in order to motivate their athletes, this can create a negative attitude that leads to hostility and conflict during competition. As a coach, make sure you demonstrate this approach in your behavior towards the other team.

Darren Windsor, blogger for coachingyoungathletes.com, writes, “I always ensure that my athletes see me approach, shake hands, smile and chat with the opposition coaches. This communicates that a camaraderie and good will exists between the coaches that will hopefully filter down to the athletes.”

Instill Your Team with Discipline and Pride

By promoting a positive team image, your players will have something that they are proud of and want to preserve during competition. When your team is proud of its image, athletes will be less likely to take action that might damage this reputation. Demanding basic standards of discipline, which often extend into good sportsmanship, can create this type of environment.

The standards outlined by Windsor include:

• How they interact with each other

• Looking and acting professionally whenever they are together as a group

• Respect of a team curfew

• Adopting a “team first” attitude

Develop Positive Expectations

Windsor writes, “Athletes need to feel a duty to maintain and build on the hard work that has been done by those before them to create a positive team reputation.”

This may seem easier for teams that have a strong history, but regardless of the way your team has behaved in the past, communicating the importance of building a positive reputation is essential. Make it clear to your athletes that they have the power to impact the sports culture in their community, and this will likely get them working together towards a common goal. By providing these expectations, your athletes will be more accountable and motivated to conduct themselves in a way that preserves a positive reputation.

Create and Communicate Specific Behavior Guidelines

Prior to the start of a season or a major tournament, create a set of guidelines for behavior and conduct. Many teams and athletic programs already adhere to their own codes of conduct, but it can be helpful for coaches to develop some of their own guidelines specifically related to sportsmanship. On top of distributing a written version of these expectations, be sure to discuss them with your athletes. By communicating what type of behavior you expect from the team, it is more likely that the guidelines will actually be followed.

“This allows each statement within the guidelines to be clarified and illustrated with examples, stories, a few case studies and possible scenarios included. Coaches and athletes must be on the same wavelength. There must be no opportunity for a young athlete to plead ignorance later on,” writes Windsor. 

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