Sports are often part of a well-balanced childhood. Whether it's soccer, football, cheerleading, baseball or volleyball, there are rules that children, and parents, need to obey. The rules for the players are usually outlined in the game book. But, often it's the ill-behaved parents that need the coaching.

Why play sports?

When you sign up your child for a sport, it is important to remember the "why" behind the motive. Perhaps it is just for the experience of being on a team. Or maybe it is to stay active. Learning how to play different sports is also a good reason. How about "just for fun?" There are many reasons why joining a sports team is a good idea, but don't let your child's reasons for playing be overshadowed by your motives.

You only live once, and so does your child

Pushing your child into sports because you always wanted to play is not a valid reason to force your child to join a team. Just because you wish you could have played sports does not mean your child will share those same interests or even talents. Make sure you are allowing your child to do what interests her, not your childhood ego. Trying to live vicariously through your child will likely lead to resentment, rebellion and poor self-esteem.

Be encouraging, not demeaning

As a parent, the main goal I have for my children who play sports is 1) Have fun. And, 2) Do their best. On the sidelines, make sure you are cheering, encouraging and sending other positive messages out to the field. I have heard too many parents say hurtful and damaging things to their children (even very young ones) about their abilities and efforts. Even if you are unsatisfied with their game, your job as a parent is to be supportive - to be on their team, not on the other side trying to bring them down.

Leave the coaching to the coach

As tempting as it may be to dictate plays to your child, you must remember that you are not the coach. What the coach does or does not do may be part of a bigger picture or plan for the team. Often, it's not all about winning, but also giving equal experiences to each team member - who also paid the fees to be on the team and is entitled to similar playing time. You and your child need to be respectful of the coach and her methods of coaching. The same also goes for the referees.

The players can't use obscenities, and neither should you

Yelling rude statements or even swear words is a no-no. This is inappropriate conduct and often embarrassing for your child. It shows a lack of respect for your child, the sport, the teams, other parents and family members and also yourself. Children should not have to be exposed to foul language in a venue that should be kid-friendly. Keep your words and temper in control. Try to find positive things to say instead of negative.

Be a team player

Most of us want our children to be a "good sport." The most effective way to teach them how is by your example. If you tend to bully them on (or off) the field, they will learn and replicate this behavior. Treat all team members, and the opposing team, with respect. Don't talk negatively about your child, his teammates, the coaches, referees or the opposing team. Sports should be fun and a learning experience, not a time to condemn or put down others.

Make sure your child actually wants to play

No one likes to be forced to do something they don't want to do. You can encourage your child to try something new, but you cannot force him to do it. Trying different sports or other activities such as music lessons, dance or art may be an equally rewarding experience for your son. A rule we have in our home is that our kids can try an activity, but if they decide they don't like it in the middle, they still need to finish out the year. This is important for them to understand from the beginning. Making commitments, especially to a team, are important to keep.

It's not if you win or lose, but how you play the game

Instead of focusing on wins or losses, remember to celebrate the good plays your child made. His improvements, his strengths and his development as an athlete are more important than the overall outcome of the game. Make sure he can see where he has strengths and areas he can improve, but always be positive.

Sports can build character, teach valuable life lessons and keep a family healthy and active. But, they can also do damage if we, as parents, are overbearing, demanding and belittling our players. We must teach our kids the proper way to behave by setting the example for them. You may not have three strikes when it comes to teaching your children.

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