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Life Ready Kids – Losing Without Being a Loser


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sportsmanship.
Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sportsmanship.

This is going to seem a bit confusing given the previous post in this series which focused on the reality that your kids are going to do a lot of winning. However, today we are also going to anticipate that they are going to lose, a lot.

It seems counterintuitive, but the reality for the ‘best of the best’ is that they have won more than the average person and also have lost more than the average person. The reason for this is that they are always in the game, not on the sidelines, but actually in the game. Not just for winners in sports and games, but all winners are constantly engaged in figuring things out, trying new things, and not being content with all that is possible in the present.

I did a bit of research and found a team that has lost more games than any other team in history. The last and only game they won was on January 5, 1971. It is estimated that they have a record of over 13,000 losses and 1 win. They are regularly humiliated and embarrassed by the other team, yet they keep playing. The team is the Washington Generals, the opponents of the Harlem Globetrotters. The team was founded and is owned by Red Klotz who has made a very good living from losing.

Losing well isn’t one of those things that comes naturally to me. I’m not sure where I heard it the first time, but have often repeated the saying, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Losing poorly for me includes sulking, pouting, blaming the referee, making excuses and a bunch of other stuff that I’m embarrassed about later. A part of me is embarrassed by how John McEnroe acted on the court because it gives me a chance to see how I acted losing much more trivial games with no money on the line.

It wasn’t until I had become a pastor and was attending the seminary that I began to take some personal responsibility for how I lost. A friend and I formed a team in the “D” league with other guys from the seminary that couldn’t make it onto a better team. We had two goals. The first was to all get a chance to play regardless of our ability. The second was that we were going to try to win the sportsmanship award for the season. The pastors in the seminary had a horrible reputation for sportsmanship and we were going to try to change that. One of my proudest memories of that season was our team winning the sportsmanship award based on how the officials and other teams rated our attitude on the court. We lost a lot of games but had a great season. Ironically, we ended up having a really good tournament and came in third of all the teams at the university. For some reason, we couldn’t seem to lose during the tournament and the amazing thing was that it really wasn’t too important to us since we had already accomplished our goal.

Why do your kids need to lose well? For starters, it helps them win. I’m not saying that they have to enjoy losing, but they do need to focus on growing through the experience rather than simply enduring or getting through it.

Emotion dominates when you lose. It is hard to accept that you tried and still lost. Much of the emotion comes from a sort of identity crisis: “I thought I was a champion, and instead, I’m a loser.” Rejection can easily lead to giving up on our dreams and doing safer things. The key difference between poor losers and good losers is that poor losers allow the failure to define them, while good losers use the failure to fuel them to future wins.

I love the story of Sparky, the boy who was a failure in school, socially awkward, and who seemed to be the only one who liked his artwork. He was rejected by his school paper, Disney corporation, and countless others, but he kept drawing and improving. He didn’t give up, but instead captured his own story in his cartoons and created one of the most loved and popular comic strips in history. Sparky was Charlie Brown, and I’m glad Charles Schultz kept drawing despite all his rejection. (Read the story)

So how do you help your kids lose well?

  • Tell stories of real champions that worked hard and lost, but kept going. Read the great list of 50 most famous successful people who failed at first.
  • Celebrate the growth, not just achievement.
  • Model it. Show them through your life that you improve each time you lose.
  • Give them a chance to fail. Too many parents protect their kid from experiencing failure, and they are robbing their kid of a chance to learn and grow.
  • Don’t be a “Polly Anna” about failure and immediately jump to the rainbow in the storm. Allow them to work through the emotion and help them authentically experience things rather than feel they have to suppress it and jump to a “happy” conclusion.

Question: Was there a great loss that you are now thankful for? How did that loss mold you into a winner?