What Makes a Child Have Bad Sportsmanship?

Yelling at the referee, criticizing teammates, pouting about a bad play -- poor sportsmanship comes in many forms 12. The poor behavior on the field hurts morale and may carry over to other areas of a child's life, such as school or social situations. Identifying the reason behind the unsportsmanlike behavior helps correct the problem to improve a child's attitude both on and off the field.

Poor Role Models

Kids model their behaviors after those around them, from coaches and parents to professional athletes. As the parent of a young athlete, you play a major role in the development of your child's sportsmanship 1. If you criticize the ref, yell at your child or badmouth the coach, you teach your child poor sportsmanship 12. A coach who encourages players to bend the rules, criticizes the players and argues with the ref reinforces negative behaviors. Your child can pick up negative behaviors even when he is a spectator if the players he's watching don't exhibit positive sportsmanship 1.

Unrealistic Expectations

High performance expectations sometimes put too much pressure on a child, resulting in poor sportsmanship 12. Parents, coaches and players themselves are potential sources of the unrealistic expectations. The pressure often comes from the desire to win rather than focusing on improving and playing his hardest. A child may also become frustrated if he makes a bad play or struggles with a specific skill. A young player who doesn't know how to handle that pressure may react by pouting, fighting or refusing to play. He might accuse the referee of a bad call to cover up for his own mistake in the game.

Lack of Guidance

Even without outside negative influences, such as too much pressure, kids often need guidance to learn positive sportsmanship 1. The coach plays a primary role in shaping the behaviors of the players on the field. If the coach fails to guide the young players, sportsmanship may suffer 1. For example, a child who pushes other players is likely to upset other players, who might retaliate by calling names or getting physical. A coach who fails to use the incident as a teachable moment allows the kids to continue with the poor sportsmanship 12.


Young players often don't have the experience or skills to handle frustrating sports situations, which may result in an outburst on the field. A child who doesn't have control over his emotions may become upset while playing a sport. A lack of confidence is another potential cause of unsportsmanlike conduct in athletes, according to an Endurance Corner article by Dr. Mimi Winsberg. A child who misbehaves during sports due to immaturity often just needs time to overcome his issues.

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