We’ve all heard the expression, “It doesn’t matter if you will or lose, it’s how you play the game.” With little ones, explaining that losing can be just as fun as winning is a difficult argument to make, especially when you have a husband like mine who is competitive even during a family game of Sorry or a tennis match on the Wii. Each time he wins a round, it is followed by a BOUYAA!! So, of course, my girls have picked up on that and then they start to tease one another and then eventually one gets upset because the other one is winning and then there are the inevitable tears because feelings get hurt, and the next thing you know a perfectly relaxing time at home turns into a stressful evening.

Here are a few ground rules for being a good sport whether playing a board game or electronic game at home with the family or playing an athletic game at school or on the field with team mates.

Goal #1 – Enjoy the Game. The number one most important goal is to enjoy yourself. If you are going to participate make sure you are playing for the fun of it, not just to win. Be realistic about your capabilities so that you do not get frustrated with yourself or set certain expectations with others that you cannot fulfill. Focus on the goal of the game which is to practice certain skills, work as a team player and pursue your personal best.

Goal #2 – Incorporate Rituals. At home, a wonderful ritual is to designate a family game night. Find a comfortable spot in the house, set out some yummy snacks and break open the board games. On the field, athletic games are an excellent opportunity to engage in meaningful rituals such as beginning each game by standing and singing the National Anthem and ending each game with all players shaking hands with opposing teammates and coaches and saying “good game.” In either situation, practicing these small acts of ceremony helps to set the tone for the game and reminds everyone to act in a civilized manner.

Goal #3 – Learn the Rules. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the rules before playing. A team player takes responsibility and knows the dos and don’ts of the game. When playing sports, it is the referee’s job to make certain judgments based on the game. They have the final word and all team players must adhere to their decision regardless of whether they agree with it. With other games, it is always a good idea to select a player in advance to make the final call in the event a discrepancy occurs.

Goal #4 – Cooperate and Play Fair. Good sportsmanship is the result of a team effort. It requires the cooperation of everyone involved. In athletic sports, that includes the assistance of the players, the parents as well as the coaches. In order for everyone to get along, mutual respect and appreciation of the game is the highest priority. All players are expected to play fair and team morale should be positive and supportive. Regardless of the type of game that is being played, participants should encourage one another to do their best and congratulate each other on a job well done or for trying their hardest.

Goal #5 – Embrace Competition. Competition is not a bad thing. It is a great indicator of one’s personal strengths and weaknesses. Competition is what drives us and inspires us to achieve great things. A healthy dose of competition is a terrific motivator and is an excellent example of life’s natural ebb and flow teaching an important lesson that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The key is to apply oneself wholeheartedly, to always play fair and honestly, and to find pleasure and satisfaction in the experience.