Three girls with their backs to the camera, wearing soccer jerseys, with their arms around each other

5 things to do if your child is on a team that loses (all the time)

I take comfort in the idea that trying for something—and then failing—can often help build a child’s confidence and resilience.

The reason I find this notion so comforting is because this year, my daughter is on a sports team that works hard, plays their hearts out, shows up to every game—and then loses. Game after game after game. The girls on my child’s team don’t seem overly bothered by it, and neither do the parents (yet), which is refreshing. But I can’t help but wonder if the constant losing might take a toll on her by the end of the season.

Is losing—every single game—not that big of a deal for kids? Is it actually good for them? According to this article, it can be:

“Experts agree that losing at sports, no matter how unending, can allow children to learn from failure. Losing all the time builds philosophy, camaraderie, sportsmanship and the idea of athletics as a series of incremental victories. The team may falter, but teammates improve, moment by moment.”

The article gave me comfort, and in case you are, or have been, in the same situation and could use a little advice, here are some suggestions that might help you and your child.

1. Put it into perspective: Are the kids having fun?

It’s one thing to say you’ve got things in perspective, but it’s another to remember to put it into practice. The truth is, in sport, the enjoyment often comes from the playing of the activity itself. When kids are engaged, and enjoying the feeling of movement, making new friends, or gaining self-confidence and self-esteem, they’re also having fun. In the end, that’s why you drive to the early-morning practices and juggle schedules, right?

This video is obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s a funny reminder that kids simply love to play and have fun.

@bardown

Pour one out for this dad. 😞 (🎥: @user1) @bardown

♬ original sound – BarDown

2. Think about what you can learn from the kids

This was a big eyeopener for me. I watched a team full of girls show up to every practice and every game with smiles on their faces. They sang in the change room, they worked hard when they were asked to, and they left with their heads held high. Nobody complained. And when I tried to have a chat with my daughter about how losing was okay, she told me she already knew that. Sometimes we can learn a lot just by listening to what our kids have to say.

3. Focus on the things they ARE achieving

If you’re not winning any trophies, what are you gaining? There are so many good things that can come out of each practice or game. Are the kids developing their skills? Are they getting better? We often overlook the fact that children enjoy developing their skills and becoming better at their sport. When kids develop their skills, the game becomes easier and it becomes even more fun for them. That’s a win!

4. Talk about it. Because it’s nothing to be embarrassed about

Back to the article I mentioned above. (It’s a good one!) In it, sports psychologist Caroline Silby says that “losing is not such a big deal that it should be hushed up. If parents don’t speak about games — or seasons — that ended badly, children may think that means that failure is so awful that they shouldn’t even talk about it.” There’s nothing wrong or shameful about being on a team that isn’t as good as other teams. In fact, Silby also says “losing seasons can give athletes some perspective, and help them grow better at managing frustration and doubt.”

5. Be a parent, instead of a coach

After a game, there’s no need to dwell on what went wrong, or what they could work on for next game. Instead, remind them of how proud you are of the hard work they put in and for giving it their best effort, and ask them if they had fun. Then, listen. If they want to talk about other things, that’s a cue for you.

Losing isn’t a big deal when it’s a handful of games, but when it becomes the norm, it can be harder to find joy. With a few simple tricks, a little perspective and a focus on the fun, everyone can end the season feeling like they achieved something great. 

Because you did.


Read more about being a sports parent:

12 responses to “5 things to do if your child is on a team that loses (all the time)

  1. I’m sorry but these are just comments of people who accept losing.
    Stop accepting mediocrity, our country has accepted that for too long and look where it’s landed us.

    1. You’re right. We should just tell young kids that they are failures for having a losing season. They should probably quit and not come back. And ban the volunteer coach forever for not getting results.

      /s

  2. Having fun and learning to love and develop passion for any sport is important. Losing week in, week out can be demoralising for a lot of children and seriously effect their confidence and desire to participate.
    It is just as important to lose throughout a child’s life as it is to win. You can make the serious argument that they learn an awful lot more from the losses. Losing every week though, and being told things such as “winning isn’t everything” or “as long as they’re having fun”, personally I don’t think is conducive to building a resilient mindset when children learn to accept and anticipate losing. A child can develop learned helplessness and it can have detrimental effects to other areas or aspects of their lives. It’s ok to lose, but we shouldn’t be trying to discourage or dissuade children or young adults from having a mindset that it is important to win.

    1. Teaching children to focus on the experience, the process, their effort, and finding positives despite losing is exactly what keeps them from getting demoralized and creates resiliency. A resilient mindset is when you keep losing but keep trying. It is not a matter accepting losing or not caring about it, but a matter of accepting the things you can control, like attitude and effort, which is the mindset that is need to ultimately succeed. If every other team you play is better, you can’t control that or let it cause you to give up. Success is not defined solely by scores and records.

  3. My son is one of the oldest on his Rookie baseball team. It is machine pitch. I have to say that this is the roughest season he has played. I don’t think they will win a game. He has played other seasons and very rarely the team he has played for won a majority of games. So loss is something he is familiar with. But this season the lack of kids paying attention and wanting to gain skills seems more bleak. The coaches are in the total mind set that all is well cuz the kids are having fun and who cares about winning. Very few kids are paying attention, skills aren’t improving, and kids should want to be there at the game but ask when they can leave. For the kids on the team that are somewhat interested in winning or playing the game it gets old.
    It is okay to want to win and it seems that thinking this way somehow means you are a parent or player that is out of line and should lean more to the soft mindset of “as long as they are having fun.”
    Also spectators, there gets to be an age that giggling and laughing when a young player is up to bat cuz they are “cute”, is just stupid. Instead cheer for these kids, it will do more for their egos and they might just get a base hit or touchdown.

    1. My 9 year old son plays rec ball and is in his first year of kid pitch. His team is in the same situation. My feeling is that the kids who really want to improve their game and want to win are also playing on travel ball teams. It’s always good when a rec team has a few travel ball players to encourage the other players to do better and take it more seriously. It’s also important for the coaches to be positive and make their expectations clear.

  4. I coach a struggling soccer team in which my daughter is easily one of the weakest players on the team. There’s a huge gap in talent when we play most teams. I’m able to keep practice fun and exciting for the kids with games, and drills they enjoy. I really stress fundamentals and not getting bogged down with complicated lineups or strategies. The kids have fun at the games. They smile but occasionally take a blowout loss pretty hard. We do team building activities, have holiday themed practices when possible (Valentines Day, Halloween, St. Paddy’s, etc.) It’s my goal that the kids will want to continue after the season is over, hopefully on a better team.

  5. I coach a girls high school basketball team. We lost every game last season. The girls tried so hard, I was very proud and I took great pride in coaching them. What was funny though was, even though we got blown out each game, we competed against the score of our last game. The other team must have thought we were all crazy because we cheered and screamed like we won the national championship when we made one more point than we did in our last game. Nobody is going to the NBA but they handled adversity, never quit and showed up for every game and practice. We can’t all be the Hoosiers but we can have a good time.

    1. I love this story! Thank you so much for sharing, John! It sounds like you were a fantastic coach and the girls had an excellent experience. All we can ask for as parents!

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