Teaching Sportsmanship With Books

Prompt discussions about winning and losing with sportsmanship books.

It's important to teach sportsmanship during and after kids' games and events. As parents, we need to be a model for sportsmanlike behavior for our children. It's important to remember to maintain an ongoing dialogue about winning and losing at other times as well.

These thought-provoking sportsmanship books can prompt some great discussions. Bonus: Many will even appeal to reluctant readers, too.

Cheetah Can't Lose

sportsmanship books for kids
Book covers courtesy of Amazon

Bob Shea updates the classic tale of the Tortoise and the Hare with fierce, fast 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 is 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; that winning isn't everything. Sam gets back in his race car to try again. Ages 4-8.

Don't Throw It to Mo!

In this award-winning early reader by David A. 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, and has supportive teammates and a coach with a plan. Ages 6-7. 

Bat's Big Game

In this picture book, Margaret Read MacDonald 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 5-8.

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 many of your child's favorite sports and celebrate what really makes sports fun—whether you win or lose. Ages 6-9.

Winners Never Quit!

Soccer champion and bestselling author 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, and she realizes that it's much more fun to play than sit on the sidelines. The picture book also includes some biographical info and photos of Hamm and is best for kids ages 4 to 8.


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 Animal Olympics despite losing one race after another. Jamieson's brilliant humor teaches kids that it's OK to not win at everything. 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 other titles, such as Clyde. 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 5-9.

Kickers #1: 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, Freddy! #16: 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—and fast! This is an early chapter book for kids ages 4-8.

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 short chapter book by Jamie McEwan with illustrations by Victor Kennedy describes his quest to find a sport that's right for him. Ages 7-10.

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 (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 8-11.

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.

By Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is an experienced freelance writer and editor who specializes in pregnancy, parenting, health and fitness.