ManningFifteen years ago, researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation did a national study examining kids’ perceptions of athletes’ behavior both on and off the field. According to their findings, many kids are learning lessons about sports and life from watching famous athletes.

The findings may be 15 years old, but not much has changed in the world of kids and their heroes. There’s no way around the fact that children are going to emulate people they admire, and realistically that isn’t going to be people like Thomas Edison or George Washington. They want to look up to someone they can relate to.

Role models in sports are definitely a mixed bag. There’s a ton of good, bad, and somewhere in between. And your kids are learning from all of them.

What Kids are Learning from Bad Examples:

It’s okay to disrespect players, coaches and refs.

There’s no need to answer to anyone; if you are a good player, your bad behavior is more easily tolerated.

The best way to handle your money is to spend it foolishly.

Cheating on your spouse may be frowned on, but you will be easily forgiven if you keep playing well.

Selfishness is okay, and is in fact, the best way to get to the top.

Some of this bad behavior we’re seeing in professional sports is filtering down to local school yards and gyms around the country, says the Kaiser Study. It’s very evident that kids take their cues from heroes on TV.

Bob Still, public relations manager for the National Association of Sports Officials, remembers an incident from several years ago when Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar spit on umpire John Hirschbeck. “We had never had an incident like that before at the youth level. But after that, we had three calls reporting spitting ‘at youth sports officials’,” says Bob.

What Kids are Learning from the Good Examples:

Dreams do come true.

It takes a team to win.

It’s good to give back to people, and be generous.

Hard work pays off.

Humility is more attractive on an athlete than arrogance.

Celebrity athletes have the power to motivate young children to step out in courage to be whatever they want to be. The challenge comes in finding those positive role models and pointing our kids towards them.

As much as it frustrates us that there are so many bad role models for our kids, we can use both sides to speak into kids about the good and bad ways to behave as an athlete. And we must take heart that there is much to be learned from the athletes who take their influence seriously and have chosen to be good examples. Let’s lift them up, point them out to our kids and let their lives speak into our children.

Janis Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. Get her latest ebook in the Sportsparenting Survival Guide series, Volleyball Mom’s Survival Guide.

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