In this reality television age, when contestants are either considered superstars-in-the-making or deserving of international ridicule, parents may struggle to instill basic teamwork principles in their children. Encouraging kids to become members of a team can help them constructively channel their energy and creativity, while learning about sportsmanship firsthand. Kids can learn new things about themselves through participation in teams of many stripes: sports, leadership, performing arts, robotics, debate, etc. Teams that uphold positive leadership can evoke skills kids did not even know they possessed. Contributing willingly to something greater than themselves often increases self-esteem and personal pride in participants.

Teamwork means the coordinated efforts of members of a group in the interests of a common cause. In order for a team to be successful, the will of the members must converge in support of a shared goal or task. A team is composed of individuals who temporarily release self-interest to focus their energy in pursuit of a desire they could not achieve on their own. The timeline of a team can be short-term or long-term, but it's usually for a specific duration. Sportsmanship is a word that describes players on any type of team who participate with character and integrity.

Teamwork has not gone out of style. In fact, teamwork has never been more important than it is today. Sports teams rely on it and so do schools, businesses, towns, states, countries and international partnerships. Groups of every type from your local PTA to your family's church or temple can benefit from better teamwork among members.

Perhaps you are hesitant about your child making a commitment to a team. Before joining any team, it's probably a good idea to weigh the pros and cons with your child because of the time and focus required. Once you decide to go for it, however, never fear. It will likely challenge and stretch everyone involved. Keep these teamwork tips fresh in your mind and your entire family will have a better experience.

  1. Commit wisely. Join teams pursuing goals your child is passionate about. It's great to be good at more than one thing, but resist the urge to overcommit. If you and your child try to please every coach at once, you won't be able to please any coaches at all.

  2. Communicate consistently. Conflicts, illnesses and field trips are bound to happen. Try to manage expectations by communicating schedule conflicts to coaches as early as you can. Other parents may not bother, but you don't want to be one of them.

  3. Get in the spirit. You have heard that attitude is everything, and nowhere is this saying more relevant than once your child becomes a team member. If you want your child to be a positive contributor, have regular conversations with him about how fortunate he is to be part of such an awesome group.

  4. Be an eager learner. Coaches love engaged and enthusiastic players. Assume your child, no matter how capable, has not yet mastered the entire skill set. Skills are an ongoing journey. If your child does not have more to learn, then maybe it's time to graduate from the team.

  5. Contribute your best. We need to ditch the idea that some people are natural-born players and others are not. Anyone can contribute something to a team if she follows her innate instinct to be generous. Discuss with your kids the difference between giving wholeheartedly and brown-nosing so they understand the difference.

  6. Stay open to constructive criticism. Part of being on a team is responding to criticism. Feedback will not likely be given perfectly every time. The coach and team administrators are also not perfect. Members need to learn to take what is helpful in feedback and try to apply it to the best of their ability without pushback.

  7. Bounce back from disappointments . Sitting on the bench, getting cast as the understudy, making JV instead of varsity - kids need help finding the value in experiences that don't thrust them immediately into a spotlight. Help them find the silver lining so they can maximize it as they keep growing.

  8. Cultivate courtesy. Sometimes you have to say, "Good game," when you don't feel that way. Coaches expect kids to park their pouting and behave with humility. Increase the odds that your kids will be on their best behavior by being impeccable in your behavior. Cultivate your family's reputation as team players and you will raise good sports.

  9. Take confusion to the top. Misunderstanding? Miscommunication? Miffed for any reason? Wait 24 hours before you fire off that email. Taking out your anger or frustration on the coach or administrators hurts your child's reputation and yours. So compose yourself and ask for help in understanding the situation before you demand heads on a platter.

  10. Encourage new members. When you and your child became part of the team, you looked to others to learn the ropes. Once your rookie becomes a veteran, it's your turn to welcome new members and families. Stick out your hand, introduce yourself and offer whatever assistance you can. There is only one rule: keep your comments constructive. Your little team member and fellow families will thank you for rising above gossip and slander.

What's Going To Work? Teamwork!

If your child wants to join any type of team, she is going to get a crash course in sportsmanship. Parents need to remember the games teams play are opportunities for members to grow. Most coaches know that developing skills and character are just as important as playing well. Unfortunately, team members sometimes bring negativity, distraction and dissipation into a team. Never underestimate the static even one unhappy team member can create. Kids - and their parents - who consistently undermine team goals are considered poor sports. Families that care about the team can all grow together. Families that don't care to grow should probably find other pursuits.

If You Want To Raise A Good Sport, Don't …

  • Be two-faced. Showing one face in public and then talking smack about the coach or teammates at home is confusing to kids. So don't do it.

  • Hover. Your child is on the team; you are not. Sometimes the coach needs you around, but most of the time she does not. Parents play a supporting role and can ask for clarification as to what helpful looks like whenever unsure.

  • Stroke your child's ego. Let your child strengthen his own ego through participating fully. You don't need to make a child feel superior to others. In fact, over-praising will undermine a player's natural desire to progress.

  • Grouse. Appreciating the coach, the administrators and the teammates will lead to family optimism. Kvetching, complaining and grumbling will only inspire cynicism. Choose wisely.

  • Imagine your child is the only one who matters. How many members of the extended team are there? How many coaches? How many are there on the support staff? How many parent volunteers? Show appreciation and support for everyone involved. Nobody enjoys diva behavior.

  • Merely focus on winning. Teams win some and lose some. Your child will have to learn to deal with emotions related to both extremes. Don't be surprised if you are balancing cockiness as much as discouragement, because kids may not have the ability to handle emotional highs and lows without guidance.

  • Overstay your child's enthusiasm. When the thrill of being on the team is gone, it's time to move on. Don't make the mistake of staying on a team when your child is no longer feeling the love. But never leave in a huff or quit when things don't go your way. Instead, leave graciously when it's a natural time to choose differently.


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Author, journalist and writing coach Christina Katz was co-captain of all of her teams in high school and college. She is keenly aware that what we call teamwork is an inside job.