I played team sports for most of my youth, and I enjoyed it because it was a lot of fun, though we always worked hard and paid attention to our coaches. Bad attitudes were rewarded with time on the bench, cheating was not an option, and we treated one another, including the opposing team, with respect.

Now that I'm a parent and a coach, it sure seems like times have changed. Sports are driven by individual egos, and the ultra-competitive atmosphere diminishes a lot of the fun and enjoyment. What I find especially bothersome is the behavior of some of the adults, who (in contrast to the parents of my youth) are a constant presence, putting pressure on their kids and coaches to perform and win.

While every athlete enjoys the thrill of victory, winning at all costs and at the expense of your opponent's dignity goes against the spirit of competitive play. What gets lost is a valuable opportunity to teach our kids important lessons about good sportsmanship, character, empathy, and respect. Maybe the time has come to return to a time when playing sports was really just about kids getting together to make friends and have fun. Maybe we, as parents and coaches, need to work a harder and focus on restoring the spirit of friendly competition.

1. Set a good example.

Kids will take their cues from us, so we need to stop yelling and complaining when things don't work out while being civil and courteous at all times.

2. Follow the rules.

Some rules are silly, but in sports, they are there for a reason. Even if you disagree, follow the rules and teach your kids to do the same.

3. Stress having fun.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but putting pressure on your kids or being a distraction takes all the fun out of sports, even if you have the best of intentions.

4. Don't focus so much on winning.

Losing is a part of life. We don't succeed at everything. Plus, losing teaches valuable lessons and helps kids to mature.

5. Make sure everyone gets a chance.

Excluding the weaker players is unfair and hurts a child's self-esteem. Parents and coaches should always be supportive and give everyone a chance.

6. Always show respect to the officials.

Everyone should pay proper respect to the officials. Complaining and arguing is not only disruptive, but sets a terrible example and diminishes the fun.

7. Make sure players respect their opponents.

Teach kids to treat their opponents with respect and dignity, congratulating them when they win and being humble when they lose.

8. Make sure players respect themselves.

Every child should be proud that they are even out there trying, because kids will then feel good about themselves and get the most out of the experience.

9. Do not allow improper language.

In addition to avoiding bad language, players should employ the proper tone and attitude. Kids who deviate from this should be removed from the game.

10. Follow through.

Adults need to set boundaries and follow through when players violate them. Empty threats diminish authority and lead to players not taking you seriously.

11. Teach players that winning is not everything (a cliche, I know).

When kids can accept defeat with dignity, they learn more valuable lessons than when they win, especially when it comes to character and resiliency.

12. Forbid heckling and criticizing.

Nobody should ever heckle opponents or their own teammates, especially if they are not as accomplished. This is mean-spirited and hurtful to a child.

13. Always be supportive.

Never criticize your child's performance, even if you feel like you're being helpful or constructive. Give your child unconditional love and support, especially with sports.

14. Embrace variety.

Kids should have a variety of activities, not just one sport. Let them embark on a journey of discovery, which will often translate into more enjoyment in all activities.

Sports are an integral part of our children's lives, and with the right perspective, can be very rewarding and enjoyable, but it takes the efforts of parents and coaches to encourage friendly competition in order to ensure that this happens.

For some interesting insight into the effect that improper parental involvement can have on a child's love of sports, check out this article. For more tips on encouraging friendly competition, visit the website for Kid's Health.