Youth soccer teams high-five each other after a game


We can all be Olympians, in spirit

As a pediatrician, former youth hockey coach and father to a young child, I love the Olympics. I, like the entire world, become captivated by the spectacular athletic performances and inspired by the stories of perseverance. What I also love is how the Olympics provides a wonderful opportunity for me as a pediatrician to connect with the children I care for because many are involved in youth sports.

When talking sports and the Olympics with children, I try to focus on the sportsmanship, camaraderie and athletic journey rather than only the final outcome or winning. So, how do you instill in a child how to be respectful and gracious in losing? Here are some tips I share with my patients and their families and also incorporate in my own life.

Consider a different kind of pep talk

Before the game or season, consider a pep talk at home not focused on winning, but on developing their skills, supporting teammates and having fun. As with many situations, if you can get ahead of what may become a concern, it’s easier to deal with when it happens.

Set the example

Children are very observant and often times mirror the actions and attitudes of adults. If they see you upset about a penalty or frustrated with the coach, those actions become acceptable to them. Just like your child, remember the game is about encouraging an active lifestyle, building teamwork and having fun.

Encourage your child to cheer for teammates

Supporting teammates and celebrating their successes helps build a sense of camaraderie and community. It reminds them to be considerate and to think beyond their own feelings.

Allow for failure

Children benefit from learning to do things for themselves because of both the struggle and possible failure that may come with it. The emotional benefits include building the willingness to keep trying, improving focus and developing ways to internally process failure. Critical thinking can also be enhanced as they problem solve to identify a different solution or tactic.

Acknowledge frustration and sadness are normal reactions to losing

Winning innately feels good and losing innately doesn’t feel as good. Reassure your child that it is OK and normal to feel frustrated or sad if they didn’t win the big game. Allow them to sit in that space for just a little bit. These feelings aren’t “bad”. You just don’t want them to stay in that frustration or sadness for too long. After acknowledging that it’s OK to feel sad, try to highlight what went well or the fun that was had. 


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