kids sport

Kids Sport: Winning, losing and getting it right

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.


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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Our netball season is just about to get underway. I think it’s just as important to teach them how to lose they right way as it is how to be a graceful winner. My 14 year old is about to start her first year of umpiring and I told her even when you make the wrong decision… are right!!

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Great advice Mandy. I think being an umpire is a great lesson in resilience for a child too!

  2. I am suprised that they are taking away scoring, we are teaching children that they are all winners. I think it can be done well and children need to learn to strive, awards as adults are not given for participation rather results.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      yes I think there is a difference between teaching kids they are all winners and being a ‘winner’and there are better ways to do this rather than taking away the opportunities for kids to win or lose.

  3. Amanda - purely4kids

    It is such a pet hate of mine – seeing parents screaming abuse from the sidelines during our kids sporting matches. It’s so unnecessary. My boys play AFL (in a city dominated by NRL) and we do the whole no scoring no finals till the kids are older and I have to admit, I don’t see the point. It’s not teaching them about the joys of winning or being gracious in defeat.
    On the flip side of this, my boys play cricket in summer and scoring and finals starts at a younger age. They have experienced the highs of winning a grand final and they’ve experienced the sadness of losing a grand final too. But they took that in their stride. Their attitude was “thats okay. We will try again next year”.
    In lots of ways I think our kids are more resilient than we give them credit for.
    I thought your blog was spot on – loved it. 🙂

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Yes I definitely think we dont give kids enough credit for getting over things! And I do believe that those parents will exist regardless of winning and losing!

  4. In real life, we win sometimes and we lose sometimes. How are our kids going to learn to cope with that if we wrap them in cotton wool?! One teacher I spoke to recently said parents had actually complained to her that their child hadn’t had a “turn” at winning 1st place in a race … what the!

    Visiting today from #teamIBOT xxx

  5. My daughter gets VERY disheartened when she doesn’t win or come first and I’m trying very hard to tell her it’s not the end of the world and that we all have our strengths, but her competitiveness must be genetic as I’ve never gone off about telling her she has to win or be the best etc. Thanks for wisdom here

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Oh yes, I seem to have that problem with number 4. There is certainly no lack of a competitive streak there! I put it down to being one of 5 boys and nothing to do with the competitive streak of his mother!

  6. Lisa Beavan

    I’ve been watching kids footy for about 6 years now and on the whole the parents have been great. This is the third year for my youngest – he’s in under 10s – and I just don’t see the point in not scoring, though they’ve given each club the choice of whether they score or not. As has been mentioned in other comments, life is not about participation ribbons – it’s about the ups and downs of winning and losing. My oldest lost his cricket final by 3 runs in a really tense match and the kids were devastated. Half an hour later, they’re running around playing, mucking around and having fun at an end of season bbq. They bounced back really well. Losing IS tough but it is a learning experience for our kids (and us!!)

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Absolutely Lisa. Sometimes I think the kids get over it before the adults! But you are right, we dont give them enough credit for their ability to get on with things regardless of the result.

  7. Sport has been really terrific for my family Martine, they have learned a lot and life from their losses and wins, but most from training and just running onto the field. We’ve had boys in sport for more than ten years and I must say that the bad parental behaviour has been minimal, especially in the rugby league teams we’re in now. It’s over-played in the media, I think… am SO glad it’s not a usual part of our Saturdays.

  8. Annie

    Learning to win and lose (gracefully) is an important life skill and I think its important that this is experienced at young-ish age.

    Even at parties these days, every child is a winner!

    Pass-the-parcel used to be a game of chance; now you know the birthday child is going to the get the main prize (hasn’t that kid already got enough loot that day???) and every child gets a prize after they unwrap. We used to accept that only 1 child would be lucky enough to get that 1 prize at the end!! The suspense!!! I don’t understand why we feel the need for every child to be a winner – life is not like that, and that’s OK. Its how you play the game.

  9. Tash

    Wow, great post – so true! We cannot hope for success and resilience, hope and enjoyment, and the want to have fun and achieve one’s own goals without the experience of good and bad, win and loss, fair and sometimes unfair. That’s life!

  10. Bec @ The Plumbette

    I can’t wait for my little ones to play sport. Losing is apart of the experience but there are great positives like team work and making friends. You brought up some great points.

  11. Elisha Ross

    I love this post and I nodded the whole way through reading this. I even wrote some notes down to write a post on the same issue myself the other day when it was being discussed on our local abc radio. Being a sporting nut myself, I think it would be detrimental to sport and what its all about as a whole. Playing, winning, being the best you can, honing your skills and all that goes with losing.

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