Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Winners and losers in kids' sport

My daughters are losers. They play for a soccer club which focusses on teamwork, fair play, cheerful attitude and making up really cool chants – and neither of them has yet won a game.

Recently one of my daughters played against a side that was surprisingly tall. My daughter’s team kept things to a nil-all draw for the first half, but in the second half, they ran out of steam.

Losing didn’t seem to bother the team too much. Instead, they congratulated each other on keeping this bigger team to a draw for the first half. But the parents and coach looked at the other team, and sighed.

Quietly, the adults applied to the football federation for an assessment of the other team. The federation found that the other team contained a number of older girls, and so that team was re-graded. When the decision was made, our club notified us calmly, with a hint of an eye-roll and a smile. No railing at the other team, no suggestion that things were unfair, just a note that this was so and which way the ruling went.

I wondered to my husband whether the other team had made a mistake. He looked at me disbelievingly. Then he told me that when he was 11, he had been in a team which regularly played against teams stacked with older kids. Even in his own team, there was some suggestion that kids might lie about their age so they could play down a grade and win more. And, like my daughters’ teams, his team too always lost.

But imagine what sort of parents they have, he said, and what sort of adults those kids will grow up to be: taking advantage at every step, lying on their taxes, cheating on their partners, all driven by their pathetic egos.

I thought about the girls on the other team, and their coaches and parents, and felt sad. What sort of world do we live in, that the outcome of a child’s game matters so much to adults? Why is winning so important to parents that they ask the kids to lie? And what sort of hollow victory is that?

Surely it is much more important for kids to learn fair play, and teamwork, and how to keep your chin up when the odds are stacked against you? Surely they need to learn how to deal with frustration and disappointment? Because if they do it well, they will also learn to be steadfast, resilient and honest, qualities that will stand them in good stead as human beings.

And as for losing all the time, well, if either of my daughters’ teams ever win, you’ll hear the victory dance from here to Timbuktu. It won’t be some empty victory which leaves a bitter taste in their mouths. Instead, it will be something really worth celebrating.

Neither of my daughters has won a game yet, and because of the vagaries of the fixture, my older daughter’s team had to play the surprisingly tall team a second time before the re-grading took effect. My daughter’s team put on a good show, but of course they were beaten. Even so, I reckon I know which team was losing out.


  1. interesting. i agree completely. learning resilience and the ability to navigate through all seasons of life is taken away with these types of decisions. the same applies when you attend a kids party now and everyone gets a prize. i just don't get it...

    1. Nor do I. There's nothing wrong with losing or feeling disappointed; what's problematic is when kids don't learn how to negotiate these feelings and experiences in a healthy way. So long live the underdog in children's sport!


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