Teaching the Basics of Sportsmanship
One of the most common myths in sports is that teaching and enforcing sportsmanship is the sole responsibility of the coach. Not true. In fact, when it comes to behavior, the coach's job is to observe players during games, and to enforce the basic guidelines of sportsmanship.
The real job of teaching good sportsmanship starts with Mom and Dad. It's up to you as the parents to lay the foundation, not the coach.
Be prepared to sit down at appropriate times and have a "teachable moment" with your child. Winning and losing are fundamental elements of any sport, and basketball is no exception. Explain that in basketball there is a right way and a wrong way to behave prior to, during, and after the game, regardless of the outcome. These principles apply on and off the court, and during practices, as well. Usually, the older the child, the more difficulty the player has in dealing with losing. Make it clear to your child that if he or she wants to be a member of the team, they must abide by the rules of good sportsmanship.
Make it clear that every game has a winner and a loser (and sometimes, events transpire that may see unfair) but that defeat --no matter how emotional --is not an excuse for acting out. Explain that blaming an official for a bad call (or the coach or a teammate for a bad decision or play) is unacceptable. Even in victory, good sportsmanship is important -- bragging or making fun of an opponent after a win cannot be tolerated.
The real test of character is always more apparent in times of difficulty. Help your child through your own responsible leadership. They will benefit over the long-term the lessons they learn, both in basketball and in life.
The Golden Rule
Young players should treat teammates, coaches, opponents and officials the same way that they would like to be treated -- fairly and with respect.
How to Teach Good Sportsmanship if the Coach Does Not
This is an interesting, and difficult, dilemma (and hopefully, one that you will not have to encounter). You may notice that your child's coach acts in an unsportsmanlike way. Maybe he or she argues too much with the officials or yells at the opposing coach and players. Your best tactic in dealing with this is to reinforce to your child that good sportsmanship is important (without criticizing the coach, if you can --be careful of undermining the coach's authority, even if he or she is a screamer).
Review the rules of good sportsmanship with your child and remind them that you are watching how they behave. If the coach's behavior continues to bother you (and sets a bad example for your son or daughter) then it may be time to switch teams, if possible. Let the league director know your concerns and see what remedies can be found. If you take the approach that, "maybe the coach is not right for my child," as opposed to "the coach needs to be removed," you will enhance your chance of a positive outcome.
What About Trash Talking?
Has trash-talking become an acceptable form of behavior? First, let's define "trash-talking." Sometimes the opposing players will be good friends off the court. The friendship encourages aiming some good-natured ribbing and jocularity at one another. That's fine.
However, any kind of verbal exchange intended to taunt, humiliate, or embarrass a player from another team is NOT to be tolerated. There is a very clear difference between a playful exchange and verbal intimidation. If you witness either your son or daughter participating in the latter, inform the coach immediately (and then reinforce your disappointment with your child at the appropriate time). Let the coach know you don't want your child or any other child on the team to participate in that kind of negative activity.