“If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?”
Vince Lombardi, one of the winningest coaches of all time, asked that very profound question. He’s got a point, you know. How can we tell our kids winning isn’t everything when sports is all about keeping score, denoting winners and losers?
For the purposes of parenting, I am only going to address the perspective of winning in youth sports. Winning in college and pros is another subject entirely.
Celebrate excellence, win or lose
Let’s face one simple fact: winning is the ultimate goal for dedicated athletes. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win. There is nothing more exhilarating that winning a championship. Ask any athlete who has. When your kid wins, celebrate with them. That’s a no brainer.
As you celebrate the win with your child, remember that you are also celebrating excellence. And excellence can be celebrated, even if your child doesn’t win. Not every team can win a championship, but many teams can achieve excellence without winning championships.
Teach your child to strive for excellence, and when it results in a win, rejoice with them. When it doesn’t result in a win, acknowledge their superior effort, even as you let them feel the pain of loss.
Sometimes–as your child will learn–giving an honest effort or having a personal-best performance can be just as or more meaningful than winning. In any race, only one person will win, but there are others who will perform at their personal highest. When your child does that, celebrate that with them as if it were a win. Because for them, it is a win.
Keep winning from becoming too important
When too much emphasis is placed on winning in youth sports, you may see some very tangible results: stacked teams, angry parents who don’t like the way the coach plays players, small kids left on the bench for the whole game, kids getting angry when a teammate makes a mistake. It may even go so far as choosing a little league coach only because he has a winning record.
When winning is placed over excellence, character growth, and skill development in youth sports, it has become too important.
The question to ask yourself, as parents, then, is this: how much emphasis have we placed on winning in our house? How much pressure do our children feel to win? Do we praise their hard work, dedication, and personal achievement as much as we rejoice in their wins?
Remember the other good stuff besides winning
If you want to help your child have a healthy perspective of winning, it starts with you.
Children want to make their parents happy. If a parent over-emphasises the result, so will the child. Don’t say winning isn’t important, just don’t make it the most important thing.
When your son or daughter comes home from a game, what do you say? Is it, “Did you win”? If so, perhaps you can change that to, “How did it go?” or “How did you play?” The game result will come out in their answer.
It’s a subtle way of putting the emphasis on their hard work or excellence, instead of the final score. Remind yourself that the scoreboard can’t show all the results that come from competition.
As parents, we must remember that there are values which are just as important as winning.
Believe me, I was often just as crushed as my children after a hard loss. Competition runs in our family; I’m married to a coach. No one in our house likes losing.
But we have learned that values like fairness, sportsmanship, discipline, and determination are more important in the long run than winning. We suffer for a while over a painful loss, but the character growth that is learned from competition stays around for life.
What is your child without the gold medal?
In the movie “Cool Runnings” (1993; Walt Disney Pictures), actor John Candy portrayed the coach of the first Jamaican bob-sled team to compete in the Winter Olympics. As the main event approached he was asked by the captain of the team, “What’s it like to win the gold medal?”
John Candy replies, “You’ll know when you cross the finish line, but remember, if you’re nothing without the gold medal, then you’ll be nothing with it.”
What will your child be without the gold medal? The championship ring? The first-place ribbon? Those are the results that should be the most important to us.
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