I see my children as growing up in a hyper-competitive society: little leagues starting kids out at 2-years-old, and gymnastics for toddlers still in diapers. But of course! How else will [my kids] get to Olympic Gold level performance or get a full ride athletic scholarship to a Big 10 school? At times it feels like I'm a failure as a Dad because none of my kids are playing even one sport presently, much less whatever sport happens to be in season.
Full disclosure: I am not good at sports, which may be one reason why my kids aren’t interesting in playing any sports. That’s not to say I don’t try to play on occasion. But as you may have guessed, I’ve had plenty of practice at being a gracious loser.
One thing I do enjoy about sports is good sportsmanship. It’s a worthwhile discipline for children and adults to practice frequently. With three kids at home (age 9 twin boys and a 5-year-old girl), there are plenty of chances to teach them how to let go of the need to “win” all the time. On the many occasions I don’t win, I have two choices: I can sulk and pout, or I smile with admiration for the person or team who beats me in spite of my best efforts and congratulate them on a job well done. Call it an exercise in humility, I try to use my losses as a teaching tool so my kids see how to value other peoples’ achievements as well as their own.
Being able to let someone else stand in the victor’s circle and still being happy for that person keeps our focus on what’s most important: the joy in the activity in which we’ve chosen to participate.
I am good at some things apart from sports, so occasionally I experience what winning feels like. Sometimes it feels so good that it’s tempting to brag or trash talk my opponents. This is poor sportsmanship just as much as being a sore loser!
One of my sons and my daughter are studying martial arts, and they enjoy it thoroughly. Part of their study involving mock combat called sparring matches. For those of you who remember the original 1980’s movie The Karate Kid there was a sparring competition in which only one person could be victorious. For the “bad guy” nothing shy of absolute victory was good enough. Second place was beneath him. He had to win at all cost, even going so far as cheating to assure victory.
My kids’ martial arts studio doesn’t work that way. While these kinds of single elimination competitions still exist, I’m glad to see my kids discovering that martial arts are worth studying for what they learn about themselves and other people, apart from receiving a trophy. I’ve seen them act calmly and with a contented spirit when they win a sparring match. The instructors always insist that the winners high-five and congratulate the students who get defeated.
Coaching the Team
Dads wear many hats. One of those hats says, “Coach,” and our job is to mentor, guide, correct, and direct our kids whether they win or lose. Even if you’re like me and lucky to sink one free throw out of four, no matter what happens, we must coach our kids to be gracious people.
I will certainly be proud to see my kids earn their black belts in Tae Kwon Do. More important, though, is I want to see that they enjoyed their time spent achieving that level of performance, regardless of whether they defeat everyone else on the first round or if it takes them an extra year’s worth of lessons and training.