Sportsmanship, by definition, is a tall order for a young child. Grace and courtesy under pressure are not characteristics we would attribute to preschoolers. Let's face it, there are many adults who still lack these skills.
But you can plant some seeds at an early age. Taking advantage of everyday, playful moments can help children learn to take turns, cope with failure and care about others' feelings.
In the Playroom
Your child learns many sports lessons when playing simple preschool games:
Peek a Boo: We cover our eyes. Then we see. >> Focus
Ring Around the Rosies: When we all fall down, we get up again. >> Determination
Doctor: We take care of those who are hurt. >> Empathy
Hokey Pokey: We put our left foot in. We put our left foot out. >> Coordination
Simon Says: Simon Says do this. Simon says do that. >> Rules
On the Playground
There are many playground interactions that also help your child practice sportsmanship, including:
Doing your very best
Sharing toys and equipment
Cheering for a friend's success
Comforting a hurt friend
On the Playing Field
Most experts agree that the best place for preschoolers to practice sportsmanship is not on the soccer field or basketball court. Organized sports are best for school-aged children (age 6 or 7) who have a better grasp of the rules and competitive nature of the game. Young children tend to prefer unstructured play.
This said, your pee-wee athlete may enjoy organized sports - being with friends and running around. As long as your child is having a positive experience and the emphasis is on having fun and trying your best, early team sports can be a wonderful thing.
Just don't be surprised if your young child:
Has trouble listening
Doesn't understand the rules
Daydreams or seems confused
Gets upset when someone takes the ball
Has separation issues (doesn't want to leave mom and dad on the sidelines)
Developmentally, your preschooler is juggling many emotional and gross motor skills that affect competitive play. Know your child's abilities and don't push organized sports if your child isn't quite ready yet.