Why I Like It When My 8-year-old Loses at Sports

My son, who’s in third grade, loves playing soccer. And while I’m under no delusions that he’s going to be a professional athlete, I want him to reap the benefits of team sports for as long as possible. That includes making great friends, developing a strong work ethic, understanding how to be a team player — and learning how to deal with disappointment.

Last weekend, his team lost and it was hard to watch, but after hearing my son’s rationale on the car ride home, I realized that he needed to experience what it was like to lose. He explained that the ref had made bad calls, the grass was too long, and the ball was flat. I stopped him and said, “Bud, the other team played really well today and you got beat. It wasn’t the ref’s fault or the grass’s fault or the ball’s fault. Your team lost, and it’s OK. It happens. You’re upset, and that’s OK, too. But life goes on.”

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I didn’t know what else to say, but I knew there was a greater lesson in there — and not just for kids who play competitive sports. When I volunteered at my son’s field day last spring, teachers didn’t keep score in any of the events, and there were no winners at the end of the day. When I asked the P.E. teacher what was up, she said, “Oh, kids these days don’t know how to lose. We’d have too many meltdowns if we kept score.”

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There are two issues here. Over the last twenty years or so, schools and recreational leagues nationwide have largely gone the “everyone gets a trophy” route, favoring cooperation over competition in P.E. classes. Simultaneously, there’s the professionalization of youth sports, whereby kids who display even a shred of talent specialize in one sport at a young age in the hopes of getting into the best colleges — ideally on scholarship. In that situation, winning becomes everything.

Experts agree that neither extreme…

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