Why is it so Important to Teach Children Good Sportsmanship?

published on 30th January, 2023

Good Sportsmanship

Teaching good sportsmanship is vital for developing the whole child. It is a significant life skill that should begin to be instilled during Elementary School years.  The importance of a child demonstrating the understanding of fair play, integrity, and respect for others goes far beyond sport.

There is no better opportunity to introduce and develop these ethics than during Phys Ed lessons. Standard 4 of Shape America’s National Physical Education Standards states “The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others”.

Good Sportsmanship helps games run smoother and keeps them enjoyable. But what about away from sport? Practise good sportsmanship and here’s how it can impact the whole child…

Instils Discipline

In sport, students must obey rules in games, face consequences if rules are broken, and follow the instructions of officials and coaches. This teaches discipline.

Develops Empathy

By understanding the efforts of others, winning graciously and showing kindness in competitive situations, empathy can grow.

Encourages Appreciation and Respect for All

If you teach children good sportsmanship, it creates an appreciation for others – team mates, opponents, and officials.  It ensures rules, coaches, and decisions are respected without conflict or bitterness.  This appreciation and respect is just as important in the classroom, and at home, as it is ‘on the field.’

Promotes a competitive spirit in the ‘Right Way’

Sometimes a child will win, sometimes they will lose. It’s important that they learn to win and lose in the right way.  It’ll help build friendships, allow them to work well in group situations and build resilience and self-control.  Winning in the right way means playing fairly, without bending the rules or cheating.  It also means winning with grace, without ‘showing off’ or being unkind to opponents after winning.

Losing in the right way means being able to get past defeat without being sore or hostile. If a child can manage failure, and then change focus onto improving performance, it will help them all the way through life.

Develops Character

Teach children good sportsmanship and help them develop many qualities that create better people.

Honesty – following rules and playing fairly.

Self-Control – to manage difficult situations without verbal or physical confrontation.

Teamwork – to work with others, showing respect, understanding, and empathy.

Resilience – to overcome obstacles, manage conflict appropriately, and bounce back from defeat.

Primary School pupil showing good sportsmanship by helping an opponent

Both Basketball or Field Hockey are great team games to help children practise good sportsmanship. It’s also a good idea to introduce Pre-K children to the importance of good sportsmanship. Our Working with Others unit is a great starting point.

Teach Children Good Sportsmanship: Our Top Advice

Avoid Arguments

Reward students who are performing well, achieving the lesson learning objectives or showing good sportsmanship. This takes the focus away from points and scoring.  Ensure all students understand the need to avoid conflict with opponents, teammates, and officials and to stay focused on the game.  Give children who are struggling with this a focus, such as a challenge within the game, that they must try to achieve.

Respect the Opposition

PE isn’t always the right environment for keeping scores, but sometimes it’s inevitable – and students must show respect to the opposing team, no matter what the result. Speak to your class about the importance of good sportsmanship, how within PE and outside of PE we should aim to ‘treat people how we wish to be treated‘. Explain that how behaving unkind, or rude to others doesn’t help improve the performance of anyone.  Give examples of how children can show good sportsmanship whether they win or lose during competition.

Fair Play

Children must follow the rules and play the games fairly.  Remind children that if they cheat, they are not truly achieving success. It’s better to work hard now to improve skills and techniques, rather than cutting corners and missing learning opportunities.   

Be a Good Teammate

Promote giving praise and encouragement to teammates: Challenge them to find ways to support each other, even if mistakes are made.  Don’t tolerate children being unpleasant towards others.  No one likes their peers being negative towards them.  This also encourages engagement and keeps children enjoying sport.

Competition when Needed

Competition is sometimes required in PE, and sometimes it can be inevitable. However, it isn’t always necessary.  If your PE activity does involve competition, keep your focus on the skills and techniques from the learning objectives and reward children who are performing these well. 

When children aren’t following the rules during games, have a quiet word with individuals – not in front of the whole class.

If the lesson aim is focusing on developing good sportsmanship, again reward children displaying these characteristics throughout. Highlight what they are doing well during games.

Encourage after school clubs / extra-curricular clubs for children who are excelling and would like more competition.

If you have students struggling with managing their emotions, our Mental Health & Wellbeing resources may be useful to use alongside PE lessons to help develop the positive characteristics of good sportsmanship.

Good Sportsmanship in PE Lessons

Girls showing good sportsmanship and teamwork during a rugby PE lesson

To conclude, sportsmanship plays a vital role both within the quality of your Phys Ed lessons, and for the social, emotional, and psychological growth of your children.

Ensuring your students practise good sportsmanship within your PE lessons can make their PE experience more enjoyable, more fulfilling, and more rewarding.  It can be the starting point for children enjoying physical activity and choosing to remain active as they get older.

Good sportsmanship develops a wide range of characteristics that are important for people of all ages, and will be valuable for children as they grow… honesty, discipline, respect, resilience… the list goes on.

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