How to Talk to Kids About Cheating in Sports

Young athletes often look up to professional athletes, and may want to mimic what they see their heroes do — both the good and the bad.

That's why it's critical to monitor what your young athletes are watching and how they're reacting to the behavior of professional athletes.

For instance: Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, was recently suspended without pay for four games for his alleged participation in a scandal that involved deflating footballs to make them easier to throw and catch.

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If your kids learn about a pro athlete who cheated, it's important to sit down and have a chat with them.

First of all, keep in mind that seeing cheating in pro athletes can confuse your children. They may be thinking, "If the pros do it, it's OK for me and my friends to cheat."

You want to jump in and stop that kind of thinking right away.

Explain that even professional athletes make bad choices and talk through the situation with your child to help them understand why cheating is wrong.

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In the case of the Brady incident, you might ask, "Why would football players want to make it easier to throw and catch balls? Do you think that's cheating?"

Explain to your children that when athletes cheat, they lose the trust of their teammates. That makes it harder for members of a team to work together well.

In addition, some athletes may support or oppose the player who cheated, creating different "sides" in the team. One side may support or forgive the athlete who cheated; members of the other side may be angry. That can create a lot of tension among teammates.

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But children shouldn't learn to avoid cheating just because of the consequences. When athletes cheat, they do it because there's so much emphasis on winning.

A focus on winning is not good for kids mentally. If they care too much about the score or the win, they're not focusing on the here-and-now, which is critical to "getting in the zone," feeling confident and playing well.

In addition, they're playing for the wrong reason. Playing just to win can cause stress and take the joy out of playing sports.

Not only is it important to stress that cheating is wrong, but you should let your kids know that cheating in sports makes it hard for players to trust one another and work well together. What's more, the cheaters are only focused on winning—a focus that will ultimately hurt their confidence, performance and enjoyment of sports.

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About the Author

Dr. Patrick Cohn/Lisa Cohn

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and youth sports psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, "Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes."

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