8 simple ways to promote team spirit among youth

Quebec's new education program focuses more than ever on teamwork. Both at school and in sports, it's not always easy for kids to fit in—without imposing on others.

“A child with good team spirit is just as capable of cooperating with those who are the best as those who are not,” explains Nancy Doyon, family coach, special education teacher and founder of SOS Nancy. To her, having team spirit means:

  • learning to recognize everyone's strengths and accept their weaknesses
  • learning to step aside and make room for the most competent person without disappearing from the picture altogether
  • collaborating with people you have little in common with
  • taking your place while leaving room for others
  • making joint decisions: going along with the majority while arguing your own point
  • winning and losing as a team, regardless of your own performance

All this requires tact, and applying just the right amount isn't easy—especially when it comes to kids. Nevertheless, simple little everyday things can contribute significantly to team spirit.

Nancy Doyon suggests 8 easy ways to foster team spirit among children:

  1. Doing something for the entire household

    The idea isn't to ask kids to clean their rooms or put away their toys, but rather do something that benefits everyone, e.g., clear the table. Emphasize that they are doing something for others and eventually, someone else will do something for them.

  2. Winning and losing

    Every parent has, at one time or another, let their kids win at a board game. It's okay to let them win occasionally, but they also need to learn to lose. For the very youngest, losing may trigger tears or tantrums. “It's better for children to learn to manage their anger at age 3 in the living room than at age 15 on a soccer field. Don't stop playing games with your kids just because they get angry when they lose,” advises Nancy. On the contrary—continuing to play will show them that it is possible to play for fun and that you can still have fun, even when you lose.

  3. Waiting your turn

    It's hard for kids to deal with not being first all the time, but they must learn that their happiness is not always paramount. “I often see parents always serving their kids first, offering them first choice at meals and first pick of movies. By doing that, we're teaching kids that they will always get their way. When they're on a team, they won't always get their way. Children must face the fact very early on that life doesn't always turn out the way you want and that this is okay.”

  4. Developing a sense of hard work

    “As parents, we don't like to see our kids struggle to do something, and often,” says Nancy Doyon, “we help them a bit too much. You have to let them do things on their own. When a child takes 15 minutes to put on his socks, he learns to make an effort and feels proud of having climbed his very own Mount Everest.” By making life too easy for children, we deprive them of the opportunity to test and develop a sense of hard work.

  5. Promoting mutual aid in the family

    Brothers and sisters can all do things to help one another, but it shouldn't automatically fall to the oldest! Parents should be the initiators in situations where children have an opportunity to take care of one another. If the oldest child is trying to lift something, for example, one of the parents can ask a younger sibling to help the child instead of doing it himself or herself. Another example is asking all the siblings to pitch in to help organize a birthday party for a family member.”

  6. Learning about—and waiting for—your turn to speak

    Mealtime is without doubt the best time to practice waiting for your turn to speak. “In my home, the salt shaker gives you the right to speak at the table. Whoever has the salt shaker in front of them speaks and the others listen,” says Nancy Doyon. “The person speaking has the whole family's attention. In this exercise, it's important to remember that Mom and Dad also get a turn to speak, even if the kids aren't interested in the topic.”

  7. Understanding their role

    Reminding kids of the importance of each member's role in the success of a sports team is a good practice. “Even if they don't score goals, it's important to let our kids know that they contribute to the team's success in their own way. Conversely, if they're the ones who scored, point out how their teammates helped them.”

  8. Rewarding effort, not success

    It's okay to reward kids when they're successful, but if you go overboard, it sometimes makes them feel like losers when they don't perform as well. “Unfortunately, kids sometimes equate their parents' pride in them with their love; if their parents aren't proud of them, kids think they no longer love them,” warns Nancy Doyon. That's why she recommends focusing on the efforts kids make rather than the results, be they success or failure.

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