Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Are We Really Saying About Winners and Losers?

Li is involved with a YMCA soccer camp for one hour and fifteen minutes each day this week. He loves it. I overheard one of the coaches say to the children that there was ten minutes left and they could play one more game and that the loser would have to do five pushups. One of the kids said, "Ten pushups!" Another said, “100 pushups!” In the end, the kids did five pushups.

Our culture keeps telling people to be good sports and good losers as well as good winners. Yet coaches and parents often pit winners against losers. Some folks even make a punishment for those that lose.

Some children may not even think about losing and might carry on with their day whether they won or lost. Some children may think about how next time they might do something different in the game to score or to play differently or better (whatever "better" means to them). Yet when we make winning the focus and even throw in there that the loser might have to do something because they lost and the winners don't "have to," I think it takes away from the self-initiative, self-motivation, and self-esteem of the players, especially the loser. And what then happens to the enjoyment of the game itself or playing for the sake of it? I think a bit of that is lost as well.

Doesn't losing itself have it's own value? (And that value doesn't have to be negative!)
-A person might feel like they tried hard and it was a good game in spite of losing.
-They might dwell on what they did do well or on the fun of the game or even congratulate another player or ask them how they made a certain shot.
-There might be camaraderie and talk about the game in general.
- A player might think about what he or she may do differently next game or even ask for pointers without feeling ashamed because they want to be more skilled at playing.

Yet when one side are called losers and made to do pushups because they lost, I bet the players are not thinking as much about what they did right, how much fun they had or what they might do differently next time that will make them an even more skilled or a better player or teammate. They might instead feel humiliated, feel like they are terrible players or dwell on what they did poorly. They might think that this sport isn't for them after all or that they suck. I would think that their self-esteem is not raised.

And how do the "winners" feel?  They might feel like they played a good game and feel proud. Or they might feel lucky they played a good game and it wasn't them this time that lost. Depending on the person, a part of them might feel bad for the other players which might dampen their glory (as winning is so often glorified). A part of them might think they are better than the other players. If they think this way, they could feel good that they have this gift of skill to play so well or that the time they spent practicing was worth it because they do notice how skilled they have become. They may even be willing and able to coach others.

Offer Kindness Instead of Shaming:
On the other hand, a few years ago I witnessed a group of more skilled players wishing that their less skilled teammates played better. And if they didn't score or pass well, the more skilled players grumbled, yelled and shamed their teammates in front of them, within earshot, or behind their backs. It was not pleasant, considerate or nice! Sometimes the coach or even the parents would add in unhelpful comments. I wish all involved would be supportive instead of belittling. I wish the most skilled teammates would *offer* (kindly and sincerely) to help practice with those they wish would improve or make suggestions or explain what they could do differently to pass, block, score or stop, etc. rather than complain about or shame them.

Not that there should be a punishment-but if there is one, it should not be something that we wish our kids liked or that is healthy for them!  (I get that not everyone likes to exercise.  However, exercise in one form or another is good for most humans - and there are so many ways to exercise.) 
I don’t think there should be a penalty for losing. However, if there is, do the players assume that whatever they are supposed to do for losing is bad and negative and to be avoided? In the soccer game my son played in the penalty was doing pushups. I don’t know, but I do wonder if the kids might start to think of sit-ups or exercise in general as something negative and to be avoided. I love to exercise and wish exercise was not given as a penalty and I would not want it to be thought of as something difficult or terrible or as a punishment. Maybe the kids didn’t even see it that way. However, I thought about this alot and wondered why a coach would tell the losers to do sit-ups when they are representative of the YMCA which supposedly wishes for kids to be healthy, fit and love to exercise and take care of their bodies.

I'd rather that all the kids get enjoyment and personal satisfaction from playing for the sake of it, from trying and winning or losing. Maybe then they will look at the game itself as what was satisfying and enjoyable rather than what they got to avoid (being "losers" or having to do pushups or some other form of punishment) or what they got to beat others at.

What Can I do?
I can share my thoughts and concerns with the coaches.  Or write a letter to the YMCA or even a letter to the editor in our local paper.  I can ask my son how he feels about it.  I can also realize that the sports culture isn't necessarily going to change, so I can have discussions with my children or discuss it with other like-minded parents for support and more ideas.  I can also start a fun, no-pressure soccer league of my own!  Any other ideas?

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