It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you handle the outcome of the game. Turning Brazil’s loss into a teachable moment for kids.
In complete shock and dismay, my son stood staggered in front of the television screen. Adorning bright shades of green, yellow and navy blue his cheering was quickly silenced as Germany’s pressure on Brazil intensified. Goal after goal, I could tell the bleak reality of my son’s beloved team was slowly sinking in. With a fierce score of 7-1, my soccer aficionado couldn’t believe Germany eliminated the host team from the FIFA World Cup series.
While the players and fans from Brazil mourned their brutal loss, my son shared the same feelings of defeat. From his folded arms, sulky stare and giant pout – he was clearly angry about the unfortunate outcome. He made brash statements like: “I can’t believe those refs!” “They were missing their star players, that’s why they lost!” “They lost sooo bad! How could they let ALL those goals in?” He bargained, haggled and groaned about his team’s loss for hours, but eventually he realized there was nothing he could say or do that would get Brazil back into the competition.
I’ve had the “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” discussion with my three children many times before. However, my son’s passionate reaction to the Brazil upset made me reflect on how difficult learning to lose gracefully can be for kids – and even parents, too. Little in life feels quite as good as winning, and even more powerful is the emotional rush of watching your child excel. Watching your daughter sprinting toward the finish line shoulder to shoulder with another runner or your son focusing on his next chess move can be almost unbearably intense. But pushing your child to win at all costs, or to see all of life as a competition, isn’t helpful to anyone.
In the pursuit to win at all costs, tiger parenting can lead to children who are overindulgent, self-centered and unethical. Children in our most competitive sports (like soccer) are often pressured to do anything to be number one. Young players “take out” the opposing team’s best players even if doing so could cause serious injury. Intense schedules, regimented training and the constant pressure to be the best have made kids sports more competitive than ever before. In our over competitive world, it’s easy to forget that humans are social beings that we’re not always meant to be “number one.”
In order to develop a positive reaction to a natural part of life – sometimes losing, parents need to teach their children healthy sportsmanship skills while they are young. Based on my book, The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Self-Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger (Penguin Books), here are some tips for teaching your children how to handle losing:
Reframe failure: Children who excel early in sports are plucked out and smothered with incredible expectations to perform, at all costs. Their sense of self increasingly depends upon achievement. Many of these “high achievers” see any form of failure – especially in competitive sports – a catastrophe, not as the valuable learning experience it can be. So, lay off the pressure. Failing is a natural part of life, and if you don’t let your child experience the distress of failure once in a while – they won’t know how to handle it in the adolescent future.
“E for Effort”: Blinded by Brazil’s loss, my son forgot to recognize all of the effort each player made up until the final whistle. After many matches and two critical players injured, Brazil should still be rewarded for their determination and grit for getting into the semi-final games. For young minds, it can be difficult to see the big picture after a loss. If parents praise effort rather than outcome, children will be able to see the importance of trying their hardest and not giving up. Comment on a specific skill, like teamwork or passing skills, to show your children there is more to a game than winning and losing.
Set the example. To cheer my son up from Brazil’s defeat, I shared a few stories with him about my own personal experiences with losing. Through my stories, I discussed how keeping a positive mindset makes a good “loser” the actual “winner.” When your favorite team loses a big game statements like, “That’s okay, maybe they will win next time,” will show your child that winning isn’t everything. Set the example of being a “good loser” will help your child increase their self-esteem and persist through failures.
Good parenting is the best coaching. Teach your kids that losing is temporary and a natural part of life! If you help them learn the value behind loss, they will begin to understand that failure are necessary steps towards success.