It’s Super Bowl weekend, and there is much big talk about who will win or lose this epic game. We place a lot of value on “winning.” Winning is important — when we play, we play to win, and we should. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be a need for a scoreboard, and there wouldn’t be a lot of the great elements that are part of a competition. I have had the pleasure of watching our students win and lose in sports games, academic competitions, and other challenges in school over the course of the last few months. This being our “inaugural year” for competitive sports and teams other than our longstanding revered swim team, I have been analyzing the ups and downs of these “first ever” seasons.
After spending time lately reading a lot of literature on the value of winning and losing in youth sports, I found that much of the research indicated that winning doesn’t always rank high on the list of reasons why children want to participate in competitive or intramural sports. My husband had the pleasure of coaching youth soccer for over 15 years as our children were growing up. I had the pleasure of “watching” this experience from my own children’s perspective and my husband’s. I could tell you that “having fun, being part of the team, making new friends and learning new skills or how to get better” always ranked higher on the list. Statistically, the importance of winning comes much closer to the bottom for children. It doesn’t mean it isn’t important to them, or that it isn’t an important part of competition. It just doesn’t seem to be their main priority.
Winning seems to be more important to adults. Admittedly, I love to win and have never really liked to lose. Problems can arise when adults are unable to cope with winning or losing in sports or other events or aspects in their life — in their own adult games, or, worse yet, in games or activities that are for their children. We have all heard about or have maybe even seen the scenes that some parents have made over calls made in their child’s little league game or even more troublesome, when these parents scream at their own or other children for mistakes made on the field. Thankfully, none of our parents have demonstrated this over-zealous involvement during any of our competitions! But we all know that it does happen…frequently.
The problem with rating a team on whether they win or lose is that it doesn’t always measure success. Many people use that as their only form of measurement in how the game went. Lose? Bad. Win? Good. Sometimes, this couldn’t be further from the truth! This reality played out in front of me on Friday night as I watched a very competitive game of youth basketball — our 6th grade “Gold” team in action! This “mighty” Gold team has ended up playing against teams that have older and bigger/taller players. In their first game, they never gave up and played their hardest throughout despite the numbers on the board. I was at their last game and saw for myself the amazing tenacity and “grit” that these boys demonstrated throughout. I was so impressed and proud of their heart and effort. They scored more points than their first game, and the opposing team had far fewer points on the board than they had had in their first game. At the end of the game, despite the end score, our players had looks of pride and satisfaction on their faces for their individual and team “improvement” and successes during this tough competition. The players on our Gold team might just get the most benefit out of participating, although it may not seem so at the time. They have the opportunity to learn how to compete and what it takes to improve over time. While being a loser requires that you lose, the corollary that losing makes you a loser is certainly false.
So, to me, (however, the fans of the losing Super Bowl team may not agree) competing, the process and the path that it takes you on are more significant and can be one of the greatest benefits of playing a sport. Giving it your best effort and seeing where that takes you… Over time, this best effort will most likely result in improvement. If you are fortunate, it may even result in some wins.
We can also use these lessons to improve other aspects of our lives because losing is as much a part of everyday life as it is a natural experience of playing sports. As parents, we make such an effort to help our kids feel better and to not let them experience failures. Ultimately, by not acknowledging their shortcomings, mistakes, and losses, we don’t allow them to live up to their potential. Failing is natural, and it creates motivation. Without failing, kids may not see the need to work harder to improve. While nobody wants to lose, we can use losing to motivate and improve. We can also extrapolate the lessons of losing to the greater life lessons so that we can all become the best of which we are capable. Losing is part of everything we do and has tremendous value. Mistakes are a natural part of participating, so we shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging our errors and using them to improve. Our goal, in youth sports and in life, has to be to see the value of losing and use it to become better athletes, parents, and people.
On another note on perseverance and determination, unrelated to sports, our “Eagle News Today” newscast had a true lesson on the subject these past two weeks. After weeks of working to complete their January newscast, they lost the entire production due to a computer crash! With patience and encouragement from their teacher, Ms. Danhof, they decided to start from scratch and work hard to redo it in time for their “deadline”…and before they had to leave for the D.C. trip! Please check out their fantastic newscast. A link and password will be sent to you in a separate email. It is the result of hard work and “grit!”
Head of School