When it comes to performing on the sports field, most of his peers are interested in winning — aka coming first. Whether it is an individual sport or a team sport, many of them are concerned with the score at the end and where they came. If they are not on the podium, then many of them get upset.
I have seen kids weeping and berating themselves for not winning a match, or coming first in their race. I have heard parents tell them that they needed to work harder or do better. And I have seen the look on these kids’ faces when they truly believe they weren’t good enough, simply because they failed to meet expectations — often those of their parents.
My husband and I never wanted that for our kids. But in a world where you are encouraged to be ‘better than everyone else’, the message about winning and losing can be misinterpreted.
So once our kids were old enough to understand the basics, we explained the rules about winning.
Rule #1: It’s important to participate. After all, there is no way you can possibly ‘win’ if you are not even part of the game.
Rule #2: Enjoy the experience. Have fun while you are competing.
Rule #3: Always do your best. We have often told our kids that we would be more proud of them for doing their best and coming last, than not trying at all and coming first. They know that no matter what the outcome, they can be proud if they have done their best.
But one of the most important rule we discussed was Rule #4: You will never win all the time. Unless you learn to be a gracious ‘loser’ and to accept you didn’t come first without excuses, blame and self-berating, you will never be a good winner. Ever. By all means look at how you can make improvements, but never, ever put yourself down or allow others to do it for you. Ever.
They are our rules about winning. And our kids know that if they don’t abide by these rules, then they don’t get to play.
My son started playing after-school basketball when he was 6. He wasn’t very good. He wasn’t particularly tall and he wasn’t particularly gifted at the game. His first goal was a fluke and it took another 10 months before he got his next goal. Often, when I would tuck him into bed, long after the game had finished and he’d had his bath and dinner, he’d ask: “Did we win?” Obviously the score was not important to him.
As he has grown he has got better at the game. He is still not a gifted basketball player like some of his peers, but he works hard and listens to his coaches. And he plays reasonably well.
But most importantly, he loves the game and he loves challenging himself.
He has played in a few Grand Finals and only won one of them. And while he was disappointed in the result, he was not devastated, like some of his friends.
After the game I would ask him if he was disappointed. He would say, “Well, a bit. But it’s only a game and winning is not everything. At least we had a chance to play.” I would then ask him if he was happy about how he played the game. Always, the answer was “yes”. What a winner!
My son is quite sporty. But he doesn’t excel at anything in particular. He enjoys a range of different sports and does reasonably well with whatever he tries. He represents his school in District Athletics, District Cross Country and District Tennis. He plays inter-school sport and after-school basketball.
But the thing I am most proud of when it comes to his sporting prowess, is his winning attitude. He is always willing to be involved, always doing his best, always accepts the results, always quick to congratulate the opposition and always happy with the experience, no matter what the outcome. In my eyes, he is a true winner.
Winning is not always about coming first, or winning the prize and beating everyone else.
Winning can be:
- Stepping out of your comfort zone to try new things
- Participating in something even though you are nervous or worried to do so
- Setting your own goals and working hard at them
- Setting your own goals and achieving them
- Giving everything a go, no matter how skilled you are at it
- Shaking hands with the person who beat you and congratulating them on their win
- Helping others reach their goals, while putting yours to the side
- Competing with a smile on your face
- Being someone or doing something that inspires others to be better people.
This week, I saw the video posted below. I have seen it before, but it truly is an awesome reminder of what sport (and winning) really should be about.
Take a moment to watch it. I guarantee, it will be the best thing you will see today.