Teaching Sportsmanship With Books

Prompt discussions about winning and losing with sportsmanship books.

It's important to teach sportsmanship at the moment, during and after games and events. And we need to model sportsmanlike behavior for our kids too. But it's important to keep talking about winning and losing at other times too. These thought-provoking sportsmanship books can prompt some great discussions (bonus: many will appeal to reluctant readers too).

Cheetah Can't Lose

sportsmanship books for kids
Book covers courtesy of Amazon

Bob Shea updates the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare with felines, and kids will get a kick out of how two small kitties outsmart the speedy (but quite over-confident) cheetah. And yet, they realize that trickery might not be as satisfying as they first thought. Ages 4-8.

Pete the Cat: Play Ball!

Perennial preschool favorite Pete the Cat is back in another early reader by James Dean. Pete's playing baseball in a big game, and he makes his share of mistakes (maybe even more than his share). His sourpuss face belies his good attitude: "But Pete was not sad. He did his best." Ages 4-8.

Number One Sam

Sam is used to being number one, so it's a big shock when he fails to win a race. This picture book by Greg Pizzoli helps kids see that it's okay to feel sad and disappointed when you don't succeed. Sam gets back in his race car to try again. Ages 3-6.

Don't Throw It to Mo!

In this award-winning early reader by David Adler, Mo Jackson endures taunts from his opponents. He's the youngest and smallest kid on his team. But he has a passion for his sport, supportive teammates, and a coach with a plan. Ages 5-8. 

Bat's Big Game

In this picture book, Margaret Read McDonald retells an Aesop fable about a ball game between the birds and the animals. Bat first joins one team, then the other, in an effort to stay on the winning side. The winning goal is all about team spirit. Ages 4-8.

Good Sports: Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More

A top-notch poet, Jack Prelutsky, teams up with an equally accomplished and beloved artist, Chris Raschka, in this collection. The short poems cover a dozen different sports and celebrate what makes sports fun—win or lose. Ages 6-12.

Winners Never Quit!

Soccer champion Mia Hamm is the author of this story "inspired by" her real life. It stars a little girl named Mia who hates losing so much that she quits in the middle of a game. Her teammates teach her that that kind of attitude just won't fly. The book also includes some biographical info and photos of Hamm. This picture book is best for kids ages 4 to 7.


Victoria Jamieson's picture book stars Boomer the pig, who has been training for the Animal Olympics. Unfortunately, even hard work doesn't guarantee success. But Boomer still has the time of his life at the Summer Games, and can't wait until the Winter ones roll around! Ages 5-8.

Tumble Bunnies

Team sports make Clyde nervous, and so does his school's Sports Spectacular. His friend Rosemary helps him try tumbling, but when the big day comes, it's she who needs help. Clyde's solution showcases true sportsmanship. This picture book by Kathryn Lasky features the same bunnies found in her titles


, and

. Ages 5-8.

. Ages 5-8.

You're a Good Sport, Miss Malarkey

In this Miss Malarkey title by Judy Finchler, Miss M. coaches a soccer team. She soon learns that it's the parents of the players that need a lesson in sportsmanship, and she sets them straight. Ages 5-8.

The Ball Hogs

This is the first title in the soccer series, Kickers. In it, new player Ben learns how to deal with a ball hog (he has to start by realizing he's a bit of a ball hog himself). Other titles in this series for new readers by Rich Wallace include Fake Out, Benched, and Game-Day Jitters. Ages 6-9.

Ready, Set, Snow

What happens when Freddy (of the well-known Ready Freddy series by Abby Klein) competes in his school's mini Winter Olympics? He has to learn how to win a snowshoe race—fast. This is an early chapter book for kids ages 5-8.

Willy the Scrub

Willy comes from a family of athletes, but he's not sporty at all—or at least he doesn't feel like he is. He wants to be, so he can fit in with other kids in his school. This chapter book describes his quest to find a sport that's right for him. Ages 7-11.

Touchdown Trouble

In this Fred Bowen Sports Story title, a young football team faces an ethical dilemma when they realize a game-winning touchdown was scored illegally. The story also contains lots of play-by-play action. The chapter book is recommended for ages 7-12.

Bravo, Mia

In this follow-up to (the companion book to an American Girl doll), figure skater Mia faces a family crisis that challenges her ability to compete in an important event. By Laurence Yep; ages 8-12.

Long Shot

Author and prominent sportswriter Mike Lupica takes on the topic of teamwork on and off the basketball court. This chapter book is part of Lupica's Comeback Kids series, which also includes titles about soccer, baseball, and football. Ages 8-12.

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