It’s been a big week for sports. Federer defeated Nadal in what proved to be an epic final of the Australian open. Greene got 10 rounds of controversial revenge on Mundine. And a very aggressive season of my Kitchen Rules got off to a punchy start.
Adding to the excitement, my boys played several matches of futsal, one of them started tennis and my grade oner had a brawl with a bully in the school yard. Like I said, It’s been a big week for sports.
And as always, the results are a mixed bag. There are always wins, there are always losses. There are times of beauty and grace, and others of shameful disgrace. Whether it’s on a world stage, or in the back yard, there are moments that make you shriek with excitement and moments where even your breath feels too loud.
This is why we love sports. Every match, round or game is a little pantomime of life. It’s seldom an even playing field. Everything is a mysterious combination of skill, effort, courage and chance. And at the end of the day, the score card isn’t always fair.
But there are always lessons to learn…
I remember jumping back into the car after one particularly gruelling soccer game, having a revolting sock shoved into my face by one of my sons, and hearing him say, “Take a deep breath, mum. It’s the smell of victory”.
Winning is fun. We try and tell the kids that it’s not about winning, but let’s be real for a sec. It’s sport. So it kind of is. I hear a lot of parents say that “it’s just about having fun”- and that’s great. But have you ever had a season where you spend week after week getting defeated? It’s not that much fun.
So here goes… in my opinion, of the three top things that kids can learn from winning, the first one is:
- It’s ok to want to win. Desire, focus, motivation… none of these are evil, but our culture has an insidious way of pairing these emotions with their sinister counterparts like greed or arrogance. Let’s never ask our children to apologise for having the audacity to see themselves as little champions.
- Winning takes effort. It’s true that every game has an element of chance. There are lucky shots and fortunate coincidences; but they are usually only moments, and very rarely responsible for the entire sum of the final score. It’s important for our kids to re-inforce the correlation between effort and reward. One day, it might mean a promotion, or a marriage saved.
- No victory is permanent. I am fortunate enough to coach one of my son’s futsal teams. The kids are young and some are new to the sport. We win a few, and we lose a few. The important thing to remember when we win, is that there are no guarantees for next time. We respect each brand new opportunity to prove ourselves and we guide the kids in being gracious in both victory and defeat.
Loosing isn’t QUITE as much fun as winning, but knowing how to do it well is an important part of life. Here’s why…
- You have a chance at some objective self appraisal. With each loss, we are able to reflect on our limits and make an assessment about the things that we could have done differently. I find that so long as we are kind, it’s important to be honest with our kids. Don’t tell little Johnny that he played magnificently, if he spent most of the game picking his nose in the shade. Highlight the good things, and ask your child to make his own observations for areas he would like to improve.
- You gain empathy. It stings, it always stings. Knowing what it feels like to lose, allows us the perspective and compassion to handle our victories with more grace.
- No defeat is permanent. Kids amaze me with their ability to bounce back. The paralysing grief that follows a devastaing loss can usually be dissipated with vanilla milkshakes. By next week, nobody really remembers the score and even if they did, it is no longer relevant. In sport, like in life, the only thing that matters is: what will you do next?
At the end of the day, that’s all the matters. The spirit with which you recover from a loss and the grace with which you handle your victories. There’s a lot to learn from both winning and losing; the important thing is to stay out there, and keep playing… both in life and in sports.
As I said to the boys recently- play life a little bit more like it’s a game. And play your next game a little bit more like it’s your life.