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

#2 Don’t mistake bad sportsmanship for competitiveness.


Poor sportsmanship has many disguises, one of the best being competitiveness, as in “My kid, man, he sure likes to win. He’s a real competitor so, yeah, he gets a little bent out of shape when he loses… No big deal.” 

No big deal, the dad says, protectively, dismissively. And so the boy loses an opportunity to learn how to cope sensibly with frustration, disappointment, partiality, and all the other things that go wrong when you compete in an event the outcome of which you cannot control.

I know what some of you are thinking: Oh lighten up, J! We’re talking about boys playing games here. Well, maybe I am making too big a deal over something most people are able to accept simply as the way things are.  It wouldn’t be the first time. But it does bother me to see boys act boorishly and then justify their behavior as part of “being a boy.” Teenage girls in my therapy practice say to me things like, “Well, he’s a fifteen year old boy. What can you expect?” Talk about lowering the bar! These girls have been socialized to think that coarse behavior in boys is hard-wired rather than learned, making it less likely that their boyfriends and such will be held accountable for their actions.  Allowing boys to be bad sports only reinforces this.

Games are games but they’re not free-for-alls. You don’t get to act any way you feel like acting just because you say you’re competitive, as if doing so gives you license to be ruthless. And it’s not just boys whose poor sportsmanship gets disguised as competitiveness; you see it in a lot of girls, too. I think that the “hungrier” the kid, the greater is our responsibility to teach him how to regulate his emotions so they don’t take over.  Being hungry is good. But it’s no better an excuse for acting poorly on the playing field than it is for acting poorly at the dinner table.

— Janet Sasson Edgette

Next article: #3 Wanting to win is okay as long as no one ends up demoralized in the process.