Everyone knows that winning is more fun than losing. But strangely enough, winning can create its own problems. One is overconfidence and being too cocky. Unless carefully handled, winning teams can become arrogant and disrespectful to teams they defeat.

There’s also a flip side to winning. Specifically, during a winning streak, most athletes not only experience the pleasure of victory but also the increased pressure not to lose. An additional danger is that if a team wins too regularly and too easily, the athletes may get bored and take their success for granted. In such cases, a focus on effort and continued improvement can provide an additional and meaningful goal to pursue.

What are some guidelines for parents’ and coaches’ post-game behavior after a win? 

  • Compliment the sport officials for doing a good job, and be sure to thank them for their contributions.
  • STOP focusing on whether your child/team won or lost.
  • LOOK for signs that indicate how the kids are feeling (facial expressions, tears, body language).
  • LISTEN to what the youngsters say before you provide input. Begin with a supportive comment, and then ask open-ended questions:
    “What part of the game did you enjoy the most/least?”
    “What was the best/worst thing about your individual performance?”
    “Were you satisfied with your effort?” If not, “What do you intend to do about effort in the future?”
    “What was the most important thing you learned from the game?”

What are some tips for helping young athletes deal with winning? 

  • Let your child/team know that athletes should feel good about winning and enjoy it.
  • Tell kids to show consideration for opponents. Good sportsmanship includes being a respectful winner and giving opponents a pat on the back or a high five in a sincere manner.
  • Remind youngsters about the importance of continued effort and striving for improvement. If your child/team played well, here are some things to say:
    “Way to go! You showed a lot of effort and improvement. Keep it up.”
    “You must feel satisfied with your effort and performance. I’m proud of you.”
    “You met the challenge really well. Is there anything in your game that needs more work and improvement?”
  • If your child/team played badly but still won, here are some things to say:
    “That was a good one to win. Is there any part of your game that needs work?”
    “Let’s enjoy that win. Keep focusing on your effort and learning, and you’ll do better next time.”
    Ask your child/team, “Did you learn anything from this that you can apply in school and in other parts of your life?”

Do you want to learn more about parenting and coaching young athletes? 

  • The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports and Mastery Approach to Coaching are research-based videos that emphasize skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun.
  • To access the videos, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website at http://www.y-e-sports.org/

About the Authors

Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith, Ph.D., is a University of Washington clinical sport psychologist who specializes in developing and evaluating interventions designed to improve the functioning of athletes.

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