Over the years, youth sports leagues, particularly at the recreational level and with younger children, have placed less of an emphasis on winning and losing and focused their philosophies on teamwork, improvement, fitness, sportsmanship, and fun. Granted, as kids progress through age levels of a certain sport, victories do become more important, but most organizations are good about keeping everything in proper perspective.
However, there are always kids who naturally take winning and losing more seriously than an 8-year-old should. Perhaps these children gloat too much when winning, pout when they fail, or call out teammates’ mistakes. This is a natural attitude for kids to take—becoming emotionally invested in doing your best is a good goal, but becoming too invested can lead to tears, hard feelings, and even a tendency to want to quit because losing becomes too frustrating. Parents can help their children in rec leagues not be so stressed about winning and losing and simply enjoy the experience. Here are six tips for moms and dads whose kids hate to lose:
1. De-emphasize scores
This might be tricky if you are in the sport with an actual scoreboard for all to see, but emphasizing that the final score is not important compared with how your child played can offer some perspective. For example, after a soccer game, if your player laments “We lost 5-1,” you can follow up with “I wasn’t even keeping score—I was paying attention to how great you played,” you highlight the performance rather than the end result.
2. Accentuate the positives
Losses happen, but that doesn’t mean positives can’t be taken from those defeats. A simple “Wow, you made some great passes and really ran hard all game!” reminds kids who hate to lose that they did their part to be successful, and that playing, despite the loss, was worth the effort and the fun. Also, take care not to dwell on the negatives, if you mention them at all. That can be tough for parents who want their kids to improve, but remember, this is just rec—don’t unknowingly compound the problem by continually pointing out what your kids did wrong instead of right.
3. Always say you are proud
Win or lose, close game or blowout, or great performance or one in which your child struggled to catch anything thrown at him, be sure to stress how proud you are afterward. This is easy for parents to forget, particularly if a kid is throwing a fit after a loss or is being a sore winner. Make a point to say you are proud after every game or meet, and follow up with another common sports parenting tip: “I love to watch you play [insert sport here].” Those extra words are a reminder that you don’t care about the outcome, just the fact you are lucky to be able to watch your kids participate.
4. Let them be a little sad
Insisting your child be super happy after every loss is unrealistic. The sport may mean so much to kids that feeling disappointed after a subpar performance is a realistic emotion. Let your child be sad for a little while, say how proud you were, talk about how you can’t wait for the next game, and buy some ice cream for both of you on the way home.
5. Stress the importance of failure
There’s a popular Michael Jordan quote you may have seen on posters and memes, about how he missed 9,000 shots over his career, including 26 potential game-winners, and lost almost 300 games, and it was that failure that drove his success. Kids who hate to lose don’t see the value in failure, and for grade-schoolers, it’s a not a lesson that comes easy. Explain how striking out or missing a tackle is par for the course in sports, and that no one is an overwhelming success all the time. And emphasize how learning from mistakes—and practicing to get better—ultimately leads to improvement.
6. The last resort …
Sometimes, your child throws such a fit after a loss, or is so rude to teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials, that your best course of action is sitting him or her out for a game or practice. Perhaps, you may determine that team sports aren’t the best option and an individual sport, such as swimming or golf, might be better choice. Or, you may choose to investigate bumping your kid up to a competitive/club level, where there is a greater emphasis on winning and losing than a rec league. You know your child best, so if nothing is working for you, a more drastic step may warrant consideration so that he or she doesn’t sour on playing organized sports.
Does your child have trouble with losing?