"I got mad and I wanted to foul them, too. But instead, I tried to remember their names so I could tell them they did a good job." (5th grader - mine - after a particularly trying basketball match)
It is really really hard to take a loss well. Even as an adult, we've seen many MANY public examples of poor losers, and it can be a struggle for 'proper' gameside behavior. Actually admitting that indeed the other team/opponent played better is hard enough, let alone being fine with the outcome. I am admittedly not especially competitive, but I know others that are quite so, and many parents who will push their kids to go go go win win win just because it is so important to them (as parents). When did we forget that sports are supposed to be for fun? And that bad behavior we see our kids displaying courtside? You don't have to look too far to see where it came from.
We are fortune in that our kids attend an international school where not only do kids from all over the world attend, but the kids also get amazing opportunities to take part in sports that are truly open to anyone who wants to play. Sure, not everyone can be on the A team, but if there is a child that wants to participate, then they will indeed get to participate. Even if it means that the mean skill level is admittedly pulled down a few notches. How else will they learn and develop their own game, right? At bigger schools, especially stateside, I don't know that this is necessarily the case. I feel as though kids (or perhaps parents) pick the sport their kids will play fairly early on, and then devote their efforts to that one sport. Only the exceptional play multiple sports because, literally, 'normal' kids devote every season of the year to the one sport, leaving little time for anything beyond a little bit of school work. By the time a child enters high school, they are either so completely sick of the sport and the time it takes, have injured themselves due to the constant overuse of the same muscles, or their parents have run out of money trying to keep up with the league fees, equipment and travel costs, and the time necessary to get their kid to game A and B and then C which is across town. It's not exactly a win win situation.
Reality is, in all of this training, and in all of this schlepping, we parents spend a lot of time watching our kids practice and play sports. We help them hone their muscles and fine tune their skills. We devote hours to helping our kids become real athletes. Are we - parents and coaches - looking at helping our kids develop their good sportmanship skills as well? What does that even mean? What does that look like? And, more importantly, are you giving your kiddos good behavior to emulate? Aha! Oh, rats. Yes, they were watching when you were hissing at the ump, and they did hear you from the back seat when you were railing on the coach. I know, it can be hard to bite your tongue sometimes; there have been many many instances when biting my tongue from the comment I so want to make about the sheer inadequacies of (insert coach/ref/ump here), but ... little pitchers, big ears. You are entitled to an opinion; just make sure it's a well-balanced comment. Sure, sometimes the ref is biased, but sometimes, it's just your kid and they did not play well.
So, what do we do? Why can't we have a normal human reaction to what we judge as incompetence on the field (even if it really isn't true incompetence but rather a call we don't agree with)? Why can't we tell our kids it is the other team's fault? For many many reasons, key of which are A) it's just a game, it really is JUST a game; B) there is always a winner and a loser, and unfortunately, you can't always be one or the other, so you may as well develop your skills at both ends of the spectrum; and C) life is not fair, and in living life, sometimes you get smacked down, even if you are (or think you are) the best. Learning to deal with the loss is an important step in developing skills that help kids (and adults!) move beyond the loss to growing and changing behavior to (hopefully) not lose the next time.
Friends, as awesome as it would be to be the parent of the next Serena or Messi, can you imagine the sheer amount of time and effort, not to mention sacrifice, it would take to get your child to that point? Even if you kid is naturally gifted, which is truly awesome, that does not mean they will end up on the next world champion team. Sorry, but it is true. And that is okay. It means you and your child will be able to have a normal life, and enjoy normal things. They'll be able to have an ice cream on Saturday afternoon just because and not have to worry about the impact it might have on their nutrition regime. They will be able to sit and read a book rather than knock out the next round of squat thrusts to strengthen their legs. They will be able to sit in a classroom with their peers and learn about the wonders of long division rather than do their schooling via distance learning thanks to a wicked 24/7 training schedule. In short, your kids get to be normal, and that is awesome because trust me when I say this, Messi was not born as he is today, and neither was Serena. They both work amazingly hard, and gave up a lot as did their families. That's a lot of sacrifice for a game.
In every game, in every opponent, in every win and every loss, there is a lesson to be learned. I know, blah blah blah. It gets tiresome to always be learning lessons already, right? But seriously, when you win a game, it's not just a victory, but a combination of actions and skills that helped you (or your team) prevail over another. Why? What did you do right? Was it just your skills versus the others' and yours were just superior? Or, let's be honest, was it a particular situation and luck, and what can we do to have repeat performances? The same questions can be asked after a loss: what happened? What went right? What went wrong? What can we do to make more of the 'right' happen and less of the 'wrong'? Better food choices? Better sleep? Better training? What did the other individual/team do better? Very important: What can we learn from this, and do different (or the same) next time? If we want to change the outcom
e, we need to make the change happen. Learning from the situation rather than brooding about what went wrong is a positive way to experience a loss. It wasn't the refs or the umps or the crappy other coach; it was us and what are we going to do about it? Asking these questions are reflecting honestly on the answers can help us to grow and to do better next time. It’s not ever, you know. Even. There is always going to be some advantage or perk that isn’t quite the same for both sides. That, my friends, is life, and just something we have to deal with.
Friends, at the end of the day, it's important to remember the reason we do sports and play games in the first place -- we do it because it is fun. It's not to win, and it's not to be the best. It's to have an enjoyable time doing something hopefully with our friends. It's about building a team relationship, and hanging out with our friends. It's about camaraderie. It's about learning and honing a skill. It's about learning how to work together with others as a unit to meet a goal. And it doesn't matter what the ref or ump or opposing team says or does, as long as you have fun along the way.