Media Contact
Rich Batten
Colorado Department of Human Services
Maggie Spain
The Bawmann Group

February 27, 2010

Playing Like Champions: Using Team Sports As A Framework For Discipline At Home

As we head into spring, the energy of the recent Super Bowl and the 2010 Winter Olympics still have people buzzing. Families all over the country will spend the month of March gearing up for March Madness and the first pitch of the baseball season. All of these events have one major feature in common: a team plays by the rules and hopes to win by doing so. Discipline is often viewed as a form of punishment for negative actions. By thinking of the family as a team and discipline as rules of the game, fathers can actually create a positive method of providing discipline to their children.

“Treating household rules like the rules of a sport can help fathers connect successfully with their children,” said Rich Batten, fatherhood and family specialist with the Colorado Department of Human Services. “Every sports fan knows that a good referee calls the foul or penalty every time and playing by the rules is part of being on the team. Children can better understand the concept of discipline when it relates to something they’re interested in.”

Just as coaches supervise their players, a family is a team in need of supervision. A team thrives by understanding common goals, the rules necessary to meet those goals and the penalties that are in place for breaking rules. Mark Perlman, creator of the Nurturing Fathers Program, suggests that by using sports as a metaphor, discipline can be viewed as teaching children how to play by the rules. By following the outline of team sports your family can be as successful as any championship team.

Set goals. Talk with your family about the specific goals you have in your household. For most families, these goals will be things like working together, communicating needs, desires and frustrations, being happy and safe and getting needs met without denying the needs of everyone else.

You can help your family achieve these goals by first setting them up for success. Being clear about the goals and what must be done to meet them will go a long way toward building a winning team. Removing temptations or distractions from the playing field will also help them reach goals. Just as you would cover electrical outlets if you have a baby in the home, consider also removing alcohol from the house to help prevent teenage drinking or stashing the TV remote to help your school-age kids stay on track with their homework. This will help keep your kids out of trouble and keep you from having to say “no” as frequently.

Make rules. Create rules for your family that are fair and clear. Rules are most easily enforced when every teammate understands exactly what is expected of them. Having your children participate in making the rules helps them invest in following them and becomes more important as they get older.

In addition to making rules for your kids, be sure to also set rules that apply to the whole family, Mom and Dad included. For example, “no hitting” is a rule that the whole family must follow.

Be sure every rule has both a “do” and a “don’t”. This gives children choices for their behavior. “No name calling” should be balanced with “be considerate of other people’s feelings.”

Encourage the good. Every team cheers and high-fives when there is a great play. Pay attention to the times that your family chooses the “do’s” and let them know you appreciate that choice. Reward good behavior with love and attention, so that your kids know they are valued members of the family team.

Call the foul. When your kids misbehave, give them a warning in the form of a choice. This teaches them responsible behavior. “If you choose to stop hitting your sister you may keep watching TV. If you continue hitting your sister, you’ll take a five minute time-out. It’s your choice.”

Remember that you must enforce the penalty. Consistency helps children play by the rules. Referees call the foul or throw the flag and they do it in a calm, matter-of-fact way, with no trace of anger. Be the referee, not the opposing team.

In October 2006, the Colorado Department of Human Services, Colorado Works Division was awarded a $10 million federal grant over five years to strengthen father/child relationships and improve parenting. Colorado is one of two locations nationwide, including Washington, D.C., to receive this federal community access grant. The Responsible Fatherhood Initiative distributes more than $1.1 million in community awards to State, community and faith based organizations to assist in providing direct services to fathers and families. Awards of up to $50,000 are distributed per program per fiscal year. For more information on a fatherhood program in your community, please visit