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It's OK to Be a Loser

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Guest blogger Jana Mathews: I think it's about time kids learned learned some important life lessons--from soccer

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September means back to school--and for many communities, the start of the fall soccer season. Like thousands of other youth sports programs across America, my kids' soccer league has decided that competition is psychologically damaging to children. In addition to causing hurt feelings, losing a pee-wee soccer match makes some kids (gasp!) cry. In order to prevent such horrific atrocities from taking place, the league's new policy is "Everybody Wins."

Evidently, emptying goalie nets and throwing out score cards promotes good sportsmanship and builds self-esteem. So does treating the terms "winner" and "loser" as if they are four-letter words.

This is a nice thought--but one that is horribly misguided. Losing a game, getting shut out, and coming in dead last rarely gives anyone the warm fuzzies, but that doesn't mean that getting one's butt kicked once in a while isn't good for us--and our kids. Among other things, losing teaches children how to handle adversity and disappointment--a skill that will serve them well in adulthood.

"But there is way too much emphasis on winning and losing in today's society," you whine.

Maybe so--but we aren't doing our kids any favors when we teach them that there is no value in competition, or misleading them into thinking that there isn't any. Like it or not, we live in a capitalist society, and with that comes the reality that hierarchies exist and that we aren't always at the top of them.

The sooner that kids learn about the highs and lows of life, the quicker they grasp two fundamental truths: namely, that winning isn't everything, and that losing a soccer game does not make them a loser.

Jana Mathews is the mother of "four under five" and the author of The Meanest Mom blog.


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14 comments so far | Post a comment now
It's a Hard Knock Life September 10, 2008, 1:27 PM

I agree 100%. Of course no one “wants” to be a loser—but not everyone wins in life. Life isn’t always fair, so how will kids learn this if these “helicopter” parents don’t let them experience any emotional bashes.

When I was a kid (which wasn’t too long ago) teachers weren’t afraid to fail you and if you couldn’t cut it, you lost BUT when you won…NOTHING compares to the feeling you get of REALLY winning something because of your effort and not because some overprotective parent’s trying to keep you in the dark.

Terrors in Tiaras September 10, 2008, 3:05 PM

I totally agree. The way we try to protect kids is doing them a disservice. What happens when they go off to college and don’t get everything they want?
My husband, a college professor, read an article that said teachers shouldn’t grade papers in red pen because it is a “harsh, negative” color and can make children feel bad about themselves. That is pathetic! If you can’t handle a mark of red pen, it’s best to lock yourself in a room right away, because you won’t survive long.

D-D mom (no, that's NOT my bra size) September 10, 2008, 4:48 PM

I think that by protecting our children from “the horrible emphasis on winning and losing in our society,” we are actually (incorrectly) making them feel that everyone should and will always feel great about everything they do. Kids need to know how to measure and improve upon their own performance, independent of what the universal trophy gift tells them. We as parents should spend more time TEACHING our children how to react, reach out, and move on when they do well and succeed OR when they fall short… in sports and in any other area of their lives. We don’t protect our children from anything when we fail to prepare them for an accountable and independent life.

Peggy September 10, 2008, 6:38 PM

I feel the same way. It is amazing that I have never heard anyone say the opposite of what you wrote, yet there has to be enough someones out there that do feel this way for these ridiculous policies to be followed. Where are these people? Why do they get to say what should be followed? What a bunch of losers. oooopsie…..

Amy September 10, 2008, 7:09 PM

I’m so struggling with this right now. First year in soccer for my girls and I have one already saying she only wants to be a winner!! I keep talking to her, but I have no idea where she is getting this from. I know for a fact not from my husband and I. Kids are being treated with soft gloves and not taught they are not always going to be on top!

Renee September 10, 2008, 7:18 PM

Every year they have a field day and the grown ups don’t want to have winners and losers but the kids all keep count. It is human nature to want to win and to want to be the best at something. Some of my biggest failures have been my bigest learning tools. I agree with everyone and hope that eventually people get back to reality when it comes to this type of stuff.

Ice Cream September 10, 2008, 8:33 PM

But, if my kids don’t get lots of trophies how can I feel like a successful soccer mom???

My kids are super poor loosers and tend to cry anytime they loose, or just if someone else wins. We did treat the word “win” as a four letter word because I was sick of the crying. However, we worked hard and after 2 years of forcing my kids to play games, and loose, I am proud to say that, though they get very upset, they understand that loosing is part of playing. This also helped them to be kind to the looser when they win because they know what loosing feels like.

Erica September 10, 2008, 11:41 PM

I agree! I know they’re young, but life just isn’t like that — there ARE winners and losers.
My husband and I run a PR agency… and what if every client we pitched had to hire every agency, just so no one would be sad? Pathetic. No one would ever have incentive to improve their pitches, and life would lose all momentum.

Marcia September 11, 2008, 10:48 AM

I am so glad to see this post!! Last year our “rec” program issued a policy stating that if the players (or the parents) were “caught” keeping score that they wouldn’t be allowed to play in the next game. WTF?
I agree with the other commenters who have said we are doing a tremendous disservice to our children when we adopt this “everybody wins” mentality. They grow up without ever learning how to handle disappointment or adversity. It’s disgusting what this is doing to our society. No one wants to work for anything anymore. Everyone feels “entitled”.

Julia September 12, 2008, 8:44 AM

What a great post! On my favorite morning radio station when they have contests they have a saying, “Not everyone gets a trophy.” Then they follow it up by saying, “This is not kids soccer.” While I find this amusing, I also find it sad that it has to said at all. It also makes me think of the movie Deceived where Goldie Hawn is asking for the necklace back and the parents are not wanting to make the child give it back. I love it when Goldie Hawn says, “Isn’t anybody in charge around here?” Seriously, how will this generation survive the cruel adult world if they don’t learn to cope with some disappointment in their lives as children?

Gilly September 13, 2008, 2:04 PM

Not only was I glad to see this post I was thrilled to see so many supporting comments! It seems like kids these days are really messed up and parents aren’t parents any more, teachers are just test prep workers and our kids are the ones suffering. It’s important for a healthy development to win sometimes, to lose sometimes and learn how to handle both with grace. My nine year old has had this kind of “conditioning” in team sports and for a while he would give up if something was hard. Why work for it when it can be handed to you anyway? So we pulled out of team sports and now he takes karate, swimming, gymnastics… those things you HAVE to put some effort forth if you want to participate. He is still a sore loser but getting better. But it’s not just him! Another child can over one day and when my son beat him at PayDay the boy said that “God thinks that’s a sin” and he cried until I called his mom to get him. Yikes! It’s good to know there are other parents out there that also do not support the win-win approach.

Cassandra March 4, 2009, 6:55 PM

I agree with you on this one. I do think that in the little league age groups all the children on the team should be allowed playtime in every game, and that the emphasis should be on sportsmanship rather than on winning alone, I do think these kids need to learn that they can’t always win. I think that these people’s hearts are in the right place win they crown all the kids winners, but I think they are crippling the children in the long run. At some point in these kids lives they are going to have to learn that they can’t always win. The longer you put it off the harder they will take it when they aren’t being babied anymore. I do think that in the sports they should keep score and have a winning team and a losing team. Maybe instead of saying losing team, maybe second place, or runner-up. Rather than focusing on who won and who lost coaches and parents should emphasize sportsmanship and doing the best you can do.

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