What’s better for your child, being a superstar at a sport or being a good sport? Which child will fare better as an adult, the one who obsesses about winning, or the one who learns how to lose with grace? Which child will do better in future relationships, the one who insists on leading, or the one who learns how to be a good teammate?
Obviously these are leading questions, but far too many parents and coaches still teach kids that winning and excelling and being the best are the point of competition. Kids are told that they play to win, that nobody remembers the second-place team, that being a star is the ultimate reward, and that losing is unacceptable.
Research consistently shows that kids who adopt such mindsets often struggle during their adult years. The so-called ‘soft skills,’ the ones that focus on cooperation, empathy, friendliness, resilience, patience, etc., are more highly prized today, both in the workplace and in the home.
In other words, far too often we’re teaching kids lessons that are out of whack with reality – a reality they soon will inherit as adults. It may feel good to see your child excel, but it also should feel good to see him help an opponent to his feet, or her to hold her head high whether she makes the team or not.
Life is About Losing
If we take a moment to think about the adult life our children soon will inherit, we’ll recognize that most of life is about losing. People lose, a lot.
Consider the competition for a good job? How many resumes, how many interviews, how many networking events, before a job is at last secured? Or think about dating? How many frogs are kissed before a prince is found? Pick anything of importance in life and you quickly discover how often the odds are stacked up against it going well.
All of which it is why it is incredibly important that kids learn how to be good sports, good teammates, good friends. The British playwright, James Barrie, described life as one big lesson in humility. He knew, as most adults do, that at some point life will humble us all. Why, then, don’t we focus on that instead of being a star, winning at all costs, crushing the opponent?
Here’s an experiment worth trying. The next time you are socializing with other adults, single out the individuals you genuinely like, the ones with whom you feel at ease, comfortable, accepted. What you’ll often find is they were the ones who didn’t make the team, rode the bench, or were mostly role players.
Lots of adults these days are worried about the future – the future of the planet, their nation, their kids. Since our kids ARE that future, let’s commit to teaching them the life lessons that sports are ideally suited to teach. If they happen to excel at the sport along the way, great. But treat it for what it is, icing on the cake.