Going outside and playing games is a great way to get children moving to support their physical development. It is also a great time to learn essential 21st century skills of collaboration, listening and following rules. Sportsmanship is an important concept to learn and includes giving your best effort, accepting defeat gracefully, playing fairly, and compromising. Very young children don’t have the abstract thinking ability or emotional development to understand the concept of competitive sports but can begin with motor activities and games with simple rules instead. Between the ages of 5 and 7, though, as children become interested in organized sports activities, they will begin to develop a sense of sportsmanship and fairness.
Why is it important for young children to learn good sportsmanship? We live in a competitive culture and it’s easy for children to develop a winner-takes-all mindset. This attitude isn’t good for a child’s character development or mental health. Sooner or later, we all fail and it’s important for children to learn early on that making mistakes or even coming in last is okay. Children who learn these concepts early are more likely to show positive leadership skills at school and in the community. These children also enjoy improved relationships with peers, coaches, and teachers.
You can support your students to learn the skills within sportsmanship by:
- Starting with simple games like Simon Says and Red Rover.
- Play directional games like catch, hide and go seek, or flag tag.
- Help children learn the basics of catching, throwing, and kicking a ball. Mix it up with different sized balls.
- Play a cooperative game such as a relay race.
- Have the children practice cheering on teammates, shaking opponents hands and supporting struggling players.
- Play familiar games and then have the children take turns changing the rules.
- Encourage the children to make up their own games using the sports equipment (i.e. cones, balls, hoops, etc.).
- Create an outdoor project together fostering collaboration and build something using recycled materials.
- Use stories to help strengthen the children’s understanding of sportsmanship. Me First by Helen Lester (HMH 1992) is a great book to help children understand the consequences of selfishness and not begin a team player.
Organized outside play should be fun, developmental, motivational, and give the children the chance to learn to love sports.
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