Why can’t we learn to be good losers?
People worry about how they want to raise their children. Their babies should be smart, strong, well-mannered, industrious, confident, and many other good qualities. Basically, we all wish for our kids to be winners. No one would dream of teaching to lose or to fail.
Unfortunately, we are pushing so hard to make sure our special snowflake never has to feel the sting of coming up short at something, they are ill-equipped to handle adversity when it sneaks through our hovering. That may not happen until we turn them loose on the world, and then they are in emotional crisis because they never had to figure out how to bounce back from anything. If everyone gets a trophy just for showing up, they get no value out of their effort. Additionally, without a little adversity and struggle, winning seems empty as well if everyone gets the same reward. So in our battle to make every kid a champion, they never learn how to be good losers or winners.
“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you strong.” While that sounds really harsh when talking about kids, it is still relevant. Perhaps a better illustration comes from a Bobby McFerrin song, Discipline. “For those who have been trained by it, no discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful.” When kids arrive in the world, the only mechanism to get their needs met is to cry, usually quite loudly. They have no tolerance or patience. As they grow in motor skills and vocabulary, they can start pointing and asking for things. But if their desire is not met quickly enough or if their perceived need is refused, they go back to the wail. So the parent has to decide if they are willing to endure the tantrum to teach moderation, or the battle is not worth it and they capitulate. No one wants to be a bad guy when a child is standing there with a quivering bottom lip and pleading eyes, but we need to give children the tools to work for what they want and to moderate their wants as well. To really be winners, children need to learn how to not always get what they want and stay functional.
Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He turned failure into success because it drove him to improve.
Tiger Woods addressed it another way. “People don’t understand that when I grew up, I was never the most talented. I was never the biggest. I was never the fastest. I certainly was never the strongest. The only thing I had was my work ethic, and that’s been what has gotten me this far.”His father, Earl Woods, would make Tiger shoot from awful places. Tiger learned early how to get out of the rough and the sand and to shoot blind toward a flag he could not see. So when it came time to play for real, Tiger was equipped to get himself out of trouble and wasn’t crippled by the mental block of a bad first shot.
Muhammad Ali took it even further. “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'” Most kids really don’t like practice, no matter how talented the coach is at motivation. If they could, they would just show up and play the game. But Ali illustrated how dealing with hardship and the less than pleasurable aspect of training would one day bring a sweet reward.
All these men had adversity, and had to go beyond that to reach their goals. So many kids have parents or coaches pushing them to win all the time, they begin to fear making a mistake of any kind. Some get to the point where they are afraid to act on their own about anything, for fear if they aren’t perfect they are nothing.
Fortunately, organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance seek to train coaches to not only teach their players to win, but how to learn from losing, and how to grow throughout the process in a positive way. Rhode Island Little League coach Dave Belisle showed how this idea works after his team did not go all the way. Even after they were eliminated , the coach says, “You have given me the most precious moment of my athletic and coaching career.” This coach taught his players to be proud of the good things they did accomplish and not let themselves be deflated by the scoreboard.
Obviously, it would be great if our kids never had to feel the sting of defeat. No one likes to come in second. But if we never let them experience that when growing up, they will have neither the confidence or the ability to handle misfortune of any kind when they go out on their own. If we as parents and/or coaches can show the kids that losing is not the end of the world, but rather an opportunity to improve for next time, we will raise up confident problem solvers who will prevail in whatever vocation they choose. Instead of worrying about failure, they will grow up believing in success. They will be able to stand tall and shrug off those who doubt them. They will look at the world like Russell Wilson did in his quest for the Super Bowl ring and say “Why not me?”