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How to Deal With Cheating in Youth Sports

Cheating in sports is a hot button issue these days with major headlines hitting the news.  But what if you catch your kid cheating in the middle of the big game, or see a child from the other team cheating when the ref’s back is turned? How can you respond in an approachable and fair way? I know as a mama bear, my gut instinct would be to march right over there and protect my child. Or, if he was the offender, I'd like to at least think I'd drag him out of the game and teach him a lesson. But these overt displays probably would do more harm than good.

Dr. Nick Molinaro, licensed psychologist with a specialty in performance and sport psychology, explains that clear honesty is always the best solution, but that cheating is rarely cut-and-dry.

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Because of this, the key is to get to the heart of what makes a budding athlete cheat in the first place, explains Dr. Nick. They may feel pressure or a deep desire to win at all costs, they may not have been taught the appropriate ethics around competition.

Dr. Nick suggest that the heart of this conundrum beings with supporting sportsmanship; here's how:

  • Foster a growth mind-set, and set goals. Keep the focus on fun and growth, not winning. Never tie love for the game to winning, and make sure your young athletes see you model growth-oriented behavior.
  • Talk often about “regard for the game”. Help your athletes define their own set of values and support them in sticking to those values. Make sure to touch on the value of honesty and the truth.

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  • Encourage them to “own” their mistake by writing you a note indicating:
    • What they specifically did
    • What you, as a parent, felt as a result of their behavior.
    • What they feel as a result of their behavior.
    • What they will do next time they are in a position to choose between telling the truth or not
  • If the child still cheats, find out their “why”. An open discussion, after emotions have calmed to determine why your child cheated is critical. Once you can identify the root cause, you can take steps to change their environment to reduce the risk of cheating occurring again.
  • Let your child know that you love them despite their mistakes. Adding to their shame and beating the proverbial dead horse at home creates more fear and anxiety. 

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