A friend of mine was recently playing hockey with his five year-old in their basement. Each time my friend scored a goal, his son had a complete melt-down. My friend said to me, “We played one game of hockey and my son went to his room three times!” This dad had a great opportunity to use loving discipline to show his son how to both lose and win.
There are winners. There are losers. That is a reality of life. How we learn to be a winner or a loser makes all the difference.
I had the opportunity the past two weekends to watch my son play for his college tennis team. His opponents each weekend could have not been more different.
In the first match, my son became injured in the middle of the match and had to default, giving the win to the other player. As they shook hands across the net the opponent asked if he could pray for my son. And so they did, right there at center court.
The next weekend my son played a young man from another college. After a hard fought match, my son was able to pull out a victory. His opponent reluctantly shook hands then proceeded to walk behind a screen and began smashing his $250 tennis racquet to pieces. We couldn’t see his tirade, but we could hear it!
My first reaction to this adult tantrum was shock. I couldn’t believe it. After a while, I began to feel sorry for this young man. My guess is that he probably grew up in a home where love was conditional. If you win, you will be loved. He never learned to be gracious in defeat.
We do a lot of coaching to teach kids how to win. But do we teach our kids how to lose? Do they understand how to be gracious in both circumstances?
I think both skills are important. We are going to lose a lot more than we win. In a tennis tournament with 32 players, there will be one winner and 31 losers.
But winning and losing is not just limited to the court or field. It happens throughout our lives. Think of that job that you didn’t get or the promotion that went to someone else. I remember how disappointed was when we made an offer on our dream house only to have the seller chose another offer.
There are consequences for a poor loser. I was told when I was very young that “No one likes a sore loser!” I had a friend growing up who wanted to win so much that he would usually cheat. Once others caught on, they quit inviting him to play. I know of a varsity baseball player who lost his starting position because of his tantrums if he made an error or struck out.
So how can we teach kids to be good losers?
1. Emphasize the fun of the game over the outcome.
Win or lose, focus on the fun. When our kids were young, we dubbed the person who lost as the “Good Cookie” for being such a great player. Then the person who won the game had to serve the loser a cookie. It was simply to make both winning and losing enjoyable.
2. Honor the right ship.
Emphasize that sportsmanship and friendship are higher values than championship. How we play the game is more important than who wins. Let your kids know how proud you are of them for the way they played the game. Set an example of shaking hands and congratulating the winner. Talk about how they have improved rather than where they need to improve.
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
2 Timothy 2:5
3. Don’t always let your kids win.
Kids need to practice losing. When kids are young and learning the game, adults and even older siblings will often adjust the game to let the child win. This is fine unless you do it all the time. It is good for kids to experience both winning and losing. If we always let them win, there is a danger that they will never strive to improve.
4. Respond well whether your kids win or lose.
How we respond to our kids after a game is really important. If our kid misses the winning shot and we as parents get upset and can’t let it go, we do great harm to our kids. Or if they strike out the last batter to win the game and we are screaming and leaping for joy, it can tells them that their performance is responsible for our happiness. And like the tennis player who smashed his racquet, they may begin to believe that the love we have for them is conditional on winning.
Teaching your child to lose well will have a lasting positive impact. Someday, your children may even thank you. For sure their future coaches will!
By Pete Larson
Husband to Lynn, Father of two
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
Executive Director of Family Fest Ministries