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Life Ready Kids – Winning Well

Photo by Jim Lambert for the Star-Ledger, and at nj.com.

This is the second in our series on raising “Life Ready Kids.” We already focused on past blogs that our goal as parents is to raise great adults not simply good kids. In the last post, we looked at how we first need to build a foundation, which is a relationship in which you are present, available, and engaged in their life. At no point does parenting require perfection, but it does require a rooted relationship.

The good news is that your kid has a very high likelihood and advantage in succeeding based solely on having a rooted relationship with you.

Decades of research show that when parents are involved students have: See the research from University of Michigan

  • Higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates
  • Better school attendance
  • Increased motivation, better self-esteem
  • Lower rates of suspension
  • Decreased use of drugs and alcohol
  • Fewer instances of violent behavior

No, it isn’t a guarantee, but I think it is a fair expectation that your kids will likely win, not just once but often, if you provide a safe foundation.

Here is the rub, you can win and still lose. John R. Tusis writes, “There’s such a thin line between winning and losing.” He should know since he wrote about sports for his whole life. He graduated from Harvard, fought in World War I, and then spent the rest of his career writing about sports and the values that come from playing them well. He was a student of the game as well as athletes and studied a lot of winners and losers.

The “thin line” between winning and losing isn’t about the score, but is about the character of the winner. There are plenty of winners that end up losing the bigger victory. It’s fun to win. Yet, too many times our focus is lost in the glory of winning and we do stupid things. The video below is ESPN’s “Top 10 Too Early Celebrations”:


Years ago, when teaching a youth ministry course, I interviewed the principle of Lincoln Christian, a K-12 school in Lincoln, Nebraska. He shared with me that their sports program was a lab for their Bible class. It was a place that tested their faith and maturity. For some, our character is revealed on the sports field, for others it is in other games, business, school, work or any other achievement. The important thing to catch is that our character is revealed on that field of our achievement. Your character, especially when you win, is revealed.

In my mind, the difference between a winner and a champion has to do with how they act after they win, not simply because they win. Sure, if you go all dictionary on me, you’ll find that there isn’t much of a difference between the two words, but when you think of the greats of sport, the ultimate champions, you wish that you could have played against them. There are people that have won a lot that you’d never care to play against because they win at costs that you aren’t willing to pay.

I’m a terrible speller and I depend heavily on Tim, our Communications Director, to proof my writing. I remember a teacher tried to encourage my love of spelling. Appealing to my competitive nature, she put me in the all-school spelling bee. I was in the sixth grade and I remember losing in the first round. I was sitting with a bunch of little kids and felt really stupid. The good spellers really looked smug and rolled their eyes as inferior kids missed words. It wasn’t until they missed a word and were sitting in the ‘audience of shame’ that they wiped the smirk off their faces and became human again. I took two lessons from that experience. First, don’t ever join a spelling bee. Second, it doesn’t feel good to be around condescending winners.

So, how do you help your kid handle their wins like a champion? Here are several key areas to focus on:

  1. Keep perspective – Your kid most likely has short-term thinking. This game and win are a huge deal to them. Your job isn’t to rain on their parade, but is to help them think even bigger. For champions, a win is like a good affirmation which keeps them working toward even bigger goals. It doesn’t make them stop, but instead lets them know they are doing the right things.
  2. Celebrate, but don’t gloat – Celebrating is okay, but don’t do it at the expense of others. There is a lot of emotion that comes with pushing yourself and accomplishments should be celebrated. But it crosses the line when you are celebrating that others lost, which is my definition of gloating. Yes, there are winners and losers, but celebrate a game well played, not that you “beat” someone.
  3. Winning brings responsibility – When you win, you represent what is good about the game, even if you don’t want the responsibility. People look at you in a different way and will copy things that you do.
  4. Have ‘class’ – I’ve heard it said that when you score a touchdown, act like you’ve done it before. The champions I admire win with grace and show the depth of their character both in how they win and how they celebrate. Look your opponent in the eye, shake hands, and give sincere thanks for a good game.
  5. Every sport is a team sport – You don’t win on your own. The best way to lose in the future is to forget the people that helped you win.

In summary, if you are doing the things that will prepare your kids to win in life, then you need to also focus on helping them win well.

Question: What have you found to be one of the hardest things to remember when you are winning?