TO succeed in a competitive world, it is increasingly important for children to learn how to set and attain their goals and where better to learn those skills than on the sports field?

Of course, top athletes can earn millions from their sport but lessons learned on the pitch can be taken elsewhere. In the boardroom, many leading business executives also have a chosen sport which they compete in.

Recreation gives us a safe and positive way to channel our frustrations and aggression and create a wider circle of friends. The same goes for our children but it is important to keep a sense of perspective.

There's no doubt youth sports have become more competitive in recent years. No longer just an after-school pastime, some youth teams have schedules that almost rival the pros.

What's more, children have to contend with speculation among coaches and parents over which local "heroes" could go on to a professional career.

But what's the cost of this "winning is everything" attitude? For one, a decline in sportsmanship among players and parents.

And many parents, who would not push themselves too hard on the sports field, can lose all sense of sportsmanship and perspective on the touchlines.

Studies show parental rage and violence has become more commonplace at children's sporting events in the past decade.

One study in the US reported 57 per cent of children had seen an adult lose control at their games.

In the light of such findings, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. Sport is fun, healthy, teaches the value of discipline and is a great way to make friends.

It may help youngsters to learn important lessons about winning and losing and playing by the rules but how these messages are perceived is often shaped by the people they look up to.

How can you be a good role model from the touchline? Bear these tips in mind:

As the old saying goes: "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." We have become so focused on winning we seem to forget why children play sports in the first place.

Watch how you react to defeat. When your child comes back from a game, try not to say: "Did you win?", ask if she enjoyed the game.

Don't live through your children. Too many parents want their child to be the next David Beckham or Denise Lewis regardless of their ability. Find out if your child really enjoys the sport.

Encourage your child but make sure there's no unnecessary pressure. Some kids can practice to the point of injury or to the detriment of all else. Attaching too much importance to winning could even set your child down a path of fad diets, steroids and supplements. Sports should enhance children's physical and emotional health not damage it.

Practice good sports behaviour yourself. Show respect for coaches, referees and other parents. Never boo the other team or insult another player and expect the same behaviour from your child. If your child exhibits bad sportsmanship, there should be consequences.

Talk to your child about bad sportsmanship on TV. If a professional player takes a dive, commits a cynical foul or bad-mouths the referee, or if fans boo another player or thrown missiles on to the pitch, make it abundantly clear it is not acceptable. Of course, talk about examples of good sportsmanship too.

Start early. Children can learn the basics of fair play from a very early age - that a game stops when someone gets hurt, for example, or you never make fun of someone who's having a bad game.

If your child is playing for a coach whose philosophy doesn't include promoting good sportsmanship, find another team. It's not worth having your child influenced by unhealthy ideas.

Ultimately, encouraging a sense of fair play in children rests with the parents. What message will you send your child next sports day?