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.
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.