Learning to win, learning to lose, participation, having a go, developing skills, encouragement to try new things, have some fun, make new friends. These are all the things we want for our kids when we sign them up for kids sport. We rarely join them up to the local footy or basketball club to become the next Gary Ablett or Michael Jordan.
Recently there has been some discussion about kids and sport and winning and losing as the AFL (Australian Football League) wanted to remove the scoring and finals at lower age groups to encourage the participation element. Most of the sporting clubs already seem to have been doing this, so that for me is not so much the issue.
For me the issue is two-fold.
One, we must not let this creep up any higher so that we are afraid of letting our kids experience winning and losing. We don’t want to be sending the message to our kids that life is full of participation ribbons. We want them to participate, but that alone wont always get you an award.
And two, kids need to learn to be humble in their wins and gracious in their losses. This is an imperative life skill. But this can only come from the parents and from the experience of competition.
Recently I heard about some really appalling displays of parent abuse on the sidelines of a junior game. Not only swearing at other parents but at the kids too. Now unfortunately this behaviour is learnt and inherited so chances are these kids will continue to behave this way both on and off the field. These games did not have scoring or a ladder or finals. Essentially there was to be no winner or loser. But still this behaviour continues. The club rules and the league recommendations are irrelevent. This is not teaching kids how to win and lose well.
A parents elation or disappointment should never be more evident than that shown by the child playing. When I cheer for my kids I cheer because I know the joy they get from winning. When I am upset for their losses I am upset because I know how much they may have wanted it. They need to know this is about them and not us. They need to see us keep things in perspective. I tell them its ok to be a upset for a while but then you will move on to the next challenge. It is never the fault of the umpire (even if you think it was). And it will help to make the next win even better. Encouragement, ambition and drive is perfectly acceptable. But it needs to come from the kids desire, not the parents.
The parents role therefore is to role model good behaviour both on and off the field. The club and leagues responsibility is to ensure that kids can have healthy competition at age appropriate levels. And the kids, they just need to keep enjoy playing with their friends, to develop their skills on the field whilst taking joy from the wins and learning from the losses.