Win, Lose, or Is It Really how You Play the Game?

It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.  Right?

It’s been a full week of wrestling league meets and tournaments for our son.  The breakneck pace of the season is a new experience for our  first year, high-school wrestler  and family.  Admittedly we are learning a lot and having fun along the way.

Sportsmanship is very important to my son’s coaches.  I appreciate their emphasis on good, respectful, courteous behavior on and off the mat.

We have  fantastic coaches — I notice at every meet they are encouraging, joke with the kids, are supportive, and a fantastic example for the kids.  They never yell, reprimand, or scold the boys — it is not a win-at-all-costs philosophy.


However, a sensitive subject arose at this last tournament.  My son, who is a novice, shared how “bummed” he is to have not won a match.  He went on to say it, “makes me feel bad.”

Wow.  My heart broke; right then, right there.

What is a parent to do or say when their child gives their best, participates to the fullest, but never wins?   It seemed cliché to say, “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about how you played the game.  Did you do your best?”  I instinctively want to protect my kids.  I don’t want them to experience pain or disappointment.  Of course, this is impossible and counter-productive to preparing them for the world.


Working on the fly, respecting his coaches and teammates, I focused on the positives.  I told him he did a great job, pointed out how much he has improved (and he has), and expressed how proud I am of him.  I encouraged him to think about how he may improve his performance.  We talked about mentors and seeking out his coaches’ advice.  Mostly we focused on how much fun he is having, his relationships with his teammates, and the team.

Of course I searched the internet as so as I got home.  The majority of articles and resources focus on good sportsmanship or do’s and don’ts for parents in the stands. This is all good and important information.  Parents do need to set a good example to their kids.  Unfortunately, I was looking for something about the feelings of defeat and failure.

What I want is advice about teen athletes feeling loss, defeat, inadequacy, and sadness.  I would like to find resources to help my teen athlete process and navigate these real feelings.  After all, life includes moments of defeat and loss as much as victory.

I found Family Education and it is a great resource for parents.  This article had wonderfully helpful tips for the very subject of sportsmanship Family Education.

In particular, the article discusses how a teen may  they do not win — like failures.  This comment resonated with me.  As did the next comment — it is important to teach the teen to LOVE the game — first and foremost.  Really, that is the point of team sports — fun, satisfaction, confidence, unity.

It is very important to encourage good sportsmanship; a love for their sport; a connection and bonding to their team and coaches; respecting and loving themselves (no, this isn’t selfish – it is ok to love yourself); and a willingness to make changes.  Another good read is Helping Your Child Achieve in Sport.

I felt very encouraged by what I read.  It helped me remember to focus on the positive, character-building benefits of the sport.  Though not specifically what I was looking for I at least have some tools I can use to help encourage my son.

A balanced approach to any sport — field, court, or mat — have fun, do your best, and practice good sportsmanship.

I hope you enjoy the reading and learn a little about parenting a sportsman too.