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How to Encourage Good Sportsmanship in Rugby

An interesting article by Helen Hinton 

There is no doubt that rugby is a physically challenging sport. But without the correct attitude and approach towards the game it can also be emotionally tough for children – particularly younger ones. In competitive sport nobody likes to lose – even the grown ups - but treating one another with respect and managing emotions effectively is important for children who play competitive rugby. Not only will it help them enjoy the game more but it will benefit them in all walks of life; research indicates that those who taunt and bully on the rugby field are likely to bring that behaviour into social situations, whereas those who practice good sportsmanship treat others respectfully. Here are some tips on how coaches and parents alike can encourage good sportsmanship in children from an early age. 


Start at home

Playing simple games at home can be a good way to introduce small children to the nature of competitive play. Start with accomplishment games like building blocks or creating a craft project so they can see an end result in their efforts. Then move along to card games or board games that don't involve letting your child win every time – this will only give them unrealistic expectations. In young children you may experience sulkiness or tantrums when it's their turn to lose. This is normal. Young children are psychologically egocentric and struggle when things aren't going their way. But with a little practice at home they will be familiar with the concept of winning and losing by the time they take their first steps onto the rugby field.


Building emotional awareness

All too often we associate rugby with physical strain and potential injury that need safeguarding. But emotionally it can take it's toll on children too. Understand that it's OK for a child to feel frustration after losing but teach them that they have to deal with their negative feelings in an acceptable way with clear consequences for any aggressive outbursts or overstepping the boundaries. Teaching them relaxation methods such as deep breathing techniques or private release can help them control their emotions in high pressure situations too. Encouraging empathy is a good way to improve sportsmanship in both win and lose situations. By putting themselves in the position of their opponents they will understand that it's nice to give out congratulations to the winners and unpleasant to gloat at the losers. 

Teach respect

Above all else, having respect for team mates, the opposition and authority figures is the key to good sportsmanship. It shows that a player knows they are not above anyone else on the field and can accept wins, losses and even bad decisions with grace and dignity. Leading by example is important here. If you are the sort of parent or coach who yells at the referee from the sidelines or talks bitterly about those more fortunate than you in your daily life you can bet your child will pick up on these attitudes and mimic them on the rugby field. Think about your behavior and encourage the same in your kids.


Remind them what they love about rugby

We've all heard the phrase 'it's not about winning, it's the taking part that counts' but when your kids have been training hard for a tournament only to get knocked out in the early stages it can be tough for them to remember that particular pearl of wisdom. However when a child becomes so focused on winning that a loss saps all of their enjoyment from the game then it's time to remind them why they are playing in the first place. Whether it's the thrill of slamming that ball down on the try line, the feeling of the wind in their hair as they dart across the field or simply being part of a team...they got this far because they enjoy something about the sport. And if they can continue to enjoy it regardless of the result then everyone is a winner in the end.


Build team spirit

Numerous studies show that being part of a sporting team improves self esteem in children and adults alike. Good team spirit means never blaming fellow team members for a bad performance but acting as one unit and sharing the triumphs and disappointments together – making them easier to bear. Along with teaching collective responsibility, it is a good idea to plan team building activities outside of practices to encourage friendships to form and really cement that team spirit.  



Kidshealth.org, Sportsmanship

Parents.com, Sore Loser: Teach kids good sportsmanship

QZ, Health cover

The Huffington Post, The Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Your Children to Deal With Anger

Peace In Your Home, Teaching your child how to lose

Livestrong, Ways to improve team spirit

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