Winners and Losers

Today is the last day of school holidays for our two daughters. Another summer has passed, as they grow and mature so quickly before our eyes. My wife Ciara, who teaches in their school spent the day preparing for Monday when another school year begins once more.

I spent most of the day with  Laura, 9 and Kate, 7. We went to the playground, did a little grocery shopping and went bowling. It was nice to just go at their pace and enjoy the day.

Whilst bowling a thought reappeared on my horizon that I had been contemplating on and off throughout the summer. They like to ride their bikes and as cycling is my ‘thing’ an interest had been expressed about taking up the sport in the next few years. I would love to see them take up cycling, but as a parent I wonder how best to encourage this.

On her second shot Laura almost got a strike, and I congratulated her on it, and we ‘high fived’. Next time up she managed to knock just one pin. She turned towards me with a look of disappointment on her face. The glowing smile of pride when I congratulated her on almost getting a strike was now replaced with a scowl of disappointment. I felt responsible. I had set her up for a fall.

When we congratulate our kids on winning, making them feel good about themselves, making them want to win more and more, what happens when they loose? Automatically, by making them feel like a winner when they win, they now feel like a loser when they loose.

In a bike race there can be only one winner. In a field of 20, 30 or 40 that means that if winning is all that counts there will be 19, 29 or 39 losers. This is when a parents attitude is crucial. In a team sport one team wins and the other loses. The players have a 50/50 chance of winning every time they take to the field. Individual sports are a different matter completely so the mental attitude of each competitor is crucial to their enjoyment and continuation in the sport.

People often say ‘It’s not the winning or losing that counts, it’s the taking part’. Whilst there is truth in this statement, just ‘taking part’ may not be enough of a reward or inspiration for a person to keep on turning up to races week in week out.

The key may be to recognise and praise effort. Watch out for each and very improvement and congratulate them on that. Place less importance on results or positions and more on really giving 100% effort and actually doing their very best and enjoying it. The wins may follow but the losses will not undermine confidence.

In life you succeed only by failing more times than the next person. Each and every failure teaches a lesson and when combined with perseverance and a knowledge that you have given your very best this leads to success.

Thomas Edison failed to create an electric light bulb 10,000 times but the 10,001st time it worked. He ran out of ways to fail and eventually succeeded. Sport is a lot like that too.

Michael Jordan once said that he didn’t try to beat anybody else but always tried to be the very best that he could be, and always, always gave 100% effort.

Sportsmen and women, athletes and most especially children should never compare themselves to anybody else. They should only compare themselves to themselves. If they improve each and every time they compete and give 100% effort, they will endure and stick with it much longer than someone who constantly compares themselves to others. Always trying your very best and giving 100%, inspires more self belief and confidence than any result could ever accomplish.

Even on a really bad day if you have given all that you can give on that day, you can walk away with your head held high. Very often a person finishing further up the leaderboard will go home beating themselves up knowing that they had more to give but were not fully committed and achieved a lesser result than they were capable of.

Success in sport is always being as well prepared as possible beforehand and then giving 100% effort on the day. This will often produce incredible results but they will not be what really matters deep down. The knowledge that you have tried as hard as you possibly could and given all that you had is what leaves a true sense of satisfaction within.

For the rest of the time at the bowling alley I praised each effort, noted every improvement and encouraged every committed attempt to do their best. We had a great time with plenty of smiles and no more frowns.


From now on I will focus on every effort my kids make to give 100% and place less emphasis on the scoreboard or result sheet. Enjoyment and loving what you do whilst giving your very best is really what matters. If this brings results, great, if it brings smiles of satisfaction, even better.




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