Why Losing is Important for Children

  • August 06, 2015


Taken from Anne Steinhoff – Novak Djokovic Foundation

Games Are Not Just about Winning

For parents, it is important to remember that there is a lot more to winning a competition, says Kenneth Barish a professor of Psychology. Every competition is a socializing experience for children. Participating in competitions in kindergarten, at school or at the playground can help parents teach their kids about the importance of teamwork, commitment to a task, cooperation and respect for the opponent. Every game is also an opportunity for children to learn to play by the rules. Even though these rules seem arbitrary to children, they need to learn that rules serve particular purposes. Competitions are a good place to demonstrate the reasons behind the rules for children to help them understand them and follow them.

What Can Children Learn from Losing?

The feeling of losing and moving on are particular skills children need to develop in order to deal with negative experiences in life when they become older. It might not seem fair to children that one kid can do something faster or better than they can, but parents can teach their children that everyone has different talents and that it is impossible to be good at everything.

Research has shown that losing games is helpful for children because it teaches them to show empathy and cope with the experience of losing.

Christine Carter, who has published books on parenting, says that children need to practice losing in order to be able to cope when they lose in a competition in front of their peers.

Children who do not experience losing can grow up to be anxious because they start seeing the possibility of not winning as some form of harm and they cannot deal with situations that do not go their way.

Losing a game is the only way for children to learn from their mistakes and think about strategies to improve. When children improve their skills and win the next time, they do not only get better at the sport or game, but they also learn something new. Learning new things increase children’s confidence and their self-belief and they start to be proud of their abilities.

When children lose, they also learn to identify themselves with others who have lost. Melody Brook, a therapist in Texas, says that the experience of coping with loss is helping children to show empathy towards other children in the same position. A child that has never lost a game will not realize that everyone struggles in life.

Finally, losing shows children that they need to work hard in order to have success because good things are not just handed over to them. These situations also help children to lose with grace in front of others and to be seen as a fair loser.

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Coach Responses

What are some of the best lessons you think a child can learn from winning and losing?

As a coach, how do you help kids and parents value the importance of wins as well as losses?

Share your tips and best practices!

Suzanne DeKay – Tennis – Fort Erie

“…A child can learn many things from both winning and losing. Demonstrating Sportsmanship is one of the most important values a child should learn to display. Before, during and after a match a child should show fair play and a positive attitude. Whether you win or lose, another important aspect is to turn the experience into an attainable learning goal. What did I do well? What can I improve?”

Marie – Ice Hockey – Toronto

“…when I was coaching 8-year-old girls’ hockey, it was a particular group of parents who had a hard time dealing with a loss. In the dressing room coaches always had a post-game chat with the players and discovered what went well and what we needed to work on. After this time the players were moving on to what they had planned for the day or other topics. They learned from the game and then let it go. I always received emails or phone calls from parents expressing their concerns about the players losing a game. Point is, we can learn from our children and we can also teach them the wrong way to respond to losing. Perspective is important in sports and in winning and losing. Often we developed more when we analyzed a game where we lost. So, we can learn a lot from losing!”

Stephanie Wallace – Figure Skating – Pembroke – 30 years

“…winning and losing is a part of life skills handling/teaching them respect is important”

Dana Weistra – Hockey – Burlington – 20 years

“…As I coach I don’t focus on Winning or Losing. Wins and Losses happen all the time. What I stress is the players give the best they can give that day. Work on all the small details and everything else takes care of itself. Winning is a result of the details. My message is just that as in life you can’t have everything you want, but if you put in the effort and pay attention to the details, you will have more positives then negatives.”

Paul Bullock – Baseball, Badminton – Collingwood – 40+ years

“…With my younger teams, I always hold a quick chat with the team after any game to discuss what went well and what didn’t go so well. I point out more positives when they lose and more negatives when the win. In this way, they are identifying their own issues and starting to be self-critical. It helps to bring out the inner coach in each player (after all they are their own most important coach) which is so important if they are to progress in any sport. Almost all of my tyke team will ask for help if they think things aren’t going well. Losing is as important as winning in my opinion if you want balanced individuals in sport (and live).”

Augustino Badali – Bowling – Kingston – 48+ years

“…I have been involved as a coach/manager for many years, teaching the youth up to 21 years of age, and older competitors at the Collegiate level! When we talk about winning and losing a couple of things come to mind. Many coaches spent much of their time trying to win and losing is not taught at the younger level; I believe that a good coach must teach young athletes how to win and lose; when done over a period of time it’s more about “how to be a good winner” and/or a good loser. With the cooperation of their parents and the coaches. Experienced coaches need to spend more time preparing new coaches to deal with winning and losing.”

Joe Benedetti – Former community Soccer coach – Hamilton – 25+ years

“…In the Make Ethical Decisions module it asks us to “pay attention to what is important to the kids when establishing your ethical standards”. Winning at all costs might come at a cost you cannot afford. So what might be 7 things more important than winning to a young athlete? The obvious one is playing! The concept of a 10-year-old substitute is ridiculous at any level. Surely athletes don’t want to get seriously injured or hurt, unnecessarily. They want to learn how to become a great teammate and feel the support of their mates. They may want to try a new position or skill or learn to make better decisions in the heat of the competition. Surely they want ALL the participants to be good sports, maintaining emotional control and not let the competition bring out the worst in human behaviour. Finally losing is often necessary to help strong teams remain humble. Sure everyone wants to win; I just don’t want to always have to talk about it!”

Yash Anand – Table Tennis – Patna/Bihar (India) – 2 years

“…Losing is important for children because it teaches the importance of win and it encourages to do work harder.”

Sheri Cappa – Ice Skating – London – 31 years

“…In our sport, It is important for the young athletes to understand that they have to perform all of the skills for each level to a particular standard before they can advance. If they are unable to achieve that, they know they have to try harder next time and work at improving those skills. When they see others getting a ribbon or badge for the achievement, it makes them “hungry” and they know they have to work harder to get there. They may not yet understand but will learn that athletes have different strengths and weaknesses and progress at different rates. They will hopefully soon learn that they cannot compare themselves to others. As they advance through the levels, they must fall back on their training to get them through. They learn that there are rules they must adhere to and specific actions they must perform and if they are not good enough, they will have to practice more and try again. It creates a desire to achieve and good work ethic can get them a better result next time. It may encourage them to seek out other skills like mental training to allow them to be better prepared for the next time. They may start to look at the big picture of the importance of sport in their life and realize there are other things that important, too. That sport does not make them who they are but is merely a part of what they do.

Wins and losses are opportunities to understand the ups and downs of life. Circumstances happen but they can control how they react to them. It is opportunity for teaching appropriate actions and reactions. It is a chance to slow down and take time to figure out how to move forward, what to do to improve next time. Athletes should always take something positive from every negative to create balance in their life.”

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