How Do Parents Help Foster Good Sportsmanship?

By Christal Montoya

Jiu Jitsu tournaments, like most sporting events, are emotional roller coasters that take us on a ride through all that human emotion has to offer. One moment you can believe that you’re on the cusp of victory only to be swept and end up being submitted. Sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama of it and react in the moment, whether it be celebrating over a win or being a sore loser. This type of excitement isn’t limited to just the competitors but also extends to spectators and parents. For parents, watching their children compete can be extremely stressful. They’re dealing with a whole different type of nerves than those of their child. They’re worried about the possibility of their child getting physically hurt, the pain of losing, and just wanting the best for their child. Due to this level of investment parents can often be a little over zealous as spectators that can on occasion veer into bad sportsmanship. How can parents be encouraging without being too much?

It’s important to remember that despite being the parent of a competitor, it is not your day. Competition and even training are about your child and them getting the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned. It’s hard not to feel as if it’s not your day too. Especially considering that you’re also investing time and resources into your child’s training but you should not be living vicariously through them.  Part of being a good and supportive parent comes from giving your children space to grow and to develop independence. You will have to let go and trust your child’s training and their coach. Letting go of the reigns and ceding control is difficult but in this situation there is very little that is in your control – the match itself, your child’s performance, their opponent. But you can control how you react to the outcome of the match and that reaction will be what your child will associate with the match regardless of a win or a loss.

This is why it is important for parents to observe good sportsmanship; it sets up an example for the child to follow. The AZBJJF has a code of conduct for coaches that could also be useful for parents to keep in mind when spectating their child’s matches. The code requests that coaches refrain from inappropriate language or gestures specifically directed towards the referee, opponents, event officials, and other spectators. This can serve as a baseline for how to behave and can also be applied to watching practices. Sometimes cheering your child on in practice can distract them from lesson or result in them drilling with more intensity as a way to show off and make their parent proud. This doesn’t exactly make for the best use of drilling/practice time.

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for your child’s development as an athlete is to be supportive and encouraging while also giving them the space they need to grow. Trust in their training and that they are in good hands with their coaches. Being empathetic and considerate of the other children competing is also something to consider. Everyone that competes trains hard in order to do their best at competition and in doing so, they open themselves up to vulnerability. Despite winning being the desired result, the possibility of losing is always on the table. This is stressful and the last thing a competitor wants to hear on either side of this outcome is a parent screaming at them. Just try to be mindful of the situation and remember that this about the kids and their Jiu Jitsu journey.