Tennis players giving handshake

Most countries, and indeed the whole world have their own big sporting events. Be it the World Cup. FA Cup, the Superbowl or the Tour de France or here in Australia the AFL Grand Final. In each of these events there can only be one winner.

It is also often the case that a team or individual that loses one year comes back next time even more determined. And sometimes the reigning champions go down next time. We saw this with Spain’s early exit from the World Cup.

Whilst nobody likes to lose, it is never the end of the world. In fact unless we “lose” or make mistakes we never learn. Thomas Edison famously “lost” 10,000 times before “winning” with the light bulb. Children will never learn to walk unless they get the feedback, which comes from “losing” and falling over.

Yet over the last generation we have taught children that there is no such thing as winning and losing. In many junior leagues scores are not kept so there can be no winners or losers. Trophies are presented to everyone for basically showing up. According to the New York Times trophies are a $3billion a year industry in the USA and Canada.

The intention has been to shield children from the “trauma” of losing. It is not a trauma unless adults make it so. Most kids will have forgotten Saturday morning’s game by Saturday afternoon if left to their own devices. The trophy mentality is a pendulum swing away from the “winner take all” mentality. Neither is right.

Children are not helped in their development if a loss is spun into a win. They are helped if they are taught that losing sometimes is part of life. It does not make you a better or worse person. It is just an event on a day. You can do your best but on a given day someone else’s best may be better. Another day it may be reversed. And you can learn from the experience making you better for next time.

Not surprisingly it is being shown that far from boosting children’s self esteem, essentially lying to them sets them up for future problems in life. Children as young as four, can sense who has really played better or whether or not they have done something well.

One day you stop getting a prize just for showing up and one day there will be loss. That may be in sport, in exams or in a relationship. If you have never learned how to cope (in a supported way) with this it hits like the proverbial ton of bricks.

We all like praise but if we are praised when we don’t do something well, what value is there in genuine praise. Furthermore if we get a reward for doing nothing where is the incentive to do better? And where is the lesson?

An increase in narcissism and entitlement mentality has been noted in college students who have been conditioned to think that showing up to class will get them an “A”. And graduates may think that a bonus is in order because they have actually shown up to work.

To quote author Ashley Merryman; “… our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help then see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded…”

This applies to some adults too!