This is the first in a series of six articles about raising boys to be good sports.

#1 Don’t dismiss bad sportsmanship as just “boys being boys.” 

Boys who lose games or don’t play as well as they would like to respond to their disappointment in all kinds of ways, some graciously and others, well, not so much. It’s these not-so-much boys who need our help and not our pardon when they stomp, scowl, blame the coach, or snap at the very people who are trying to help them leave it behind. “Oh, I just ignore it,” a parent might say to an onlooker. “He gets that way whenever he doesn’t like how he’s playing, or how his team is playing. Eventually he gets over it.” Yeah, sure, eventually he gets over it, but you can’t always say the same for the poor folk who are forced to suffer his tantrum. Besides, why would anyone want their kid to think that being sulky, vengeful, or otherwise unpleasant is an acceptable way to react to a lost game or a poor performance or even a bad call?

I’m reminded of a critic of mine who said I couldn’t possibly write about anything having to do with the “world” of boys, because I wasn’t one. Well, he got the last part right, but that was it. I don’t write about boys because I think I “know” their world or have any special insight into what that world is like. I write about boys because boys and men are in my world, and I’m affected by what they do and how they think and act. And after raising three of them, I became aware that some of the folklore surrounding boyhood and masculinity is very detrimental to guys, if not downright patronizing. I say that because in reinforcing the conviction that “boys will be boys,” this kind of folklore just teaches people to assume that boys are less capable of and less interested in living lives of compassion, justice, and dignity than are girls.

Boys with bad sportsmanship act poorly not because they’re boys, but because they haven’t been taught or they haven’t learned that such behavior is unacceptable. They believe, like the adults who give excuses for the behavior, that they’re “just being boys.” No, boys are better than that. Those other boys are just being rotten sports.  

–Janet Sasson Edgette


Next article: #2 Don’t mistake poor sportsmanship for “competitiveness.”