3 Lessons for Sports Loss

As parents, many of us head into the weekend prepared to cheer hard for our kids, wind, rain or shine. We root for their teams to win.  But what if they don’t? Is it a waste of a whole Saturday? Or if you’re headed for tournaments, a waste of a weekend?

“No!” say experts.  Here are three reasons why:

1.  Sports are a Safe Place to take Risks

I recently heard an excellent lecture by Maui Borden, a speaker with ProActive Coaching based in Washington.  Borden reminded our crowd of several hundred parents of high school athletes that of course we don’t want our kids taking risks with cars, drinking, drugs and sex but that there is no downside for allowing a young athlete to take a risk in a sports practice or a game.

ProActive’s founder Bruce E. Brown writes in his booklet, “The Role of Parents in Athletics”,

“If young athletes are going to develop into intelligent, instinctive individuals, it is critical that they are given the opportunity to solve their own problems during games.”

Brown’s staff took Nike to task for an ad campaign involving Tiger Woods:Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.41.45 AM

What message does “Winning takes care of everything” send to the 9 or 10 year old who was watching from twenty feet away in last week’s golf tournament when Tiger dropped a couple of F bombs after hitting a poor tee shot? In the long run, our athletes need to know that while having talent is fun and important,  having character is essential.

2. Just Showing Up is NOT Enough

In this week’s New York Times article titled “Losing is Good for You”, author Ashley Merryman explains that the trophy industry’s burgeoning to $3 billion a year in the U.S. and Canada is indicative of the over-emphasis on participation rather than effort.

“The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.”

Research has shown that children who are groomed to be successes only become less resilient.  One voice leading that charge for years has been Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, psychology professor and author of Mindset. I had the chance to interview her for a ParentMap article in 2010.  As she and I chatted at a local coffee shop before her lecture to hundreds of parents, she said something which I starred in my reporter’s notes, and this I call the third lesson:

3. Failure should Not be the F-word

Dweck reminded me how sharply kids are tuned into what parents and other adults value (even if it seems like they are not listening to you!) If parents are upset after a loss, particularly if they help assign blame on others, “They are communicating the message to the child ‘I expect everything to be easy for you’.” Rather than a “growth mindset”, Dweck says parents are then unknowingly encouraging a “fixed mindset” in their kids.

So what do we say if a child’s team does lose?  Here is where we need to be their MVP’s, most valuable parents, in this case.

First, kids need space, says Borden.  In fact the more competitive they are, the more space they need.  As Brown writes,

“Parents should leave them alone until they are receptive to interaction with them. Then when they do come to them, parents should give them quiet understanding, be a reflective listener and bring the child back to the bigger perspective.”

And, just so we’re not all going into the weekend wanting our kids to lose for the sake of learning something, Dweck told me these questions are great to ask any day of the week around the family dinner table.”Who had a challenge today?” “Who struggled?”or “Who learned something new?”

Win or lose, it’s not how they play the game, it’s how we parents talk about the game.



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