Winning, Losing & Taking Part

Today I had my first opportunity to see my son compete at his first sports day. It was great fun to see all the three and four year-old’s from his nursery; run, and hurdle, and complete obstacle courses.

There was one thing that I wasn’t sure about.  The children were told it was all about the taking part, not the winning and losing.  Now I believe why they do this is so not to make those that are less good feel bad.  That there are no losers, that sport is a good thing, and not something to dread.  But I do wonder what kind of children we are bringing up if they only learn how to take part.

I am reminded of a line in the Rudyard Kipling poem If.  “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same”  I equate Triumph to winning and the Disaster as losing, and to treat those two imposters just the same as the understanding that in the grand scheme of things both are inconsequential, as the reference to imposters devalues their importance.  Yet to highlight them, suggests that the child needs to understand their difference.

Should we not teach our children to win with humility and lose gracefully.  Once school is over and they are cast out into the world, will taking part get them through life’s challenges, or will trying to win be applauded and dealing with loss with dignity valued?

There is another line in If “If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss;”  This is a lesson I wish I learnt earlier.  How to lose.  That losing is an opportunity to dust yourself off and to try again.

I particularly say this as my eldest son is VERY competitive; I can’t complain as everyone says I am too, but I know I play to win, with the understanding that I will often not win. He however is only four and is still learning, thus I am constantly trying to get his brother to win (having said that completion is a good motivator to get him to do things he doesn’t particularly want to do). Will I be the only opportunity in his life to learn how to win and lose before he grows up, I wonder.

How about when they will, inevitably, have to sit exams; will the teacher tell them that all they have to do is to take part.  Will it not be detrimental to the less academic children if they are graded and some will do well and some not so.  Of course this is preposterous, though some will say the children are a long way off exams, and by then they will have had an opportunity to develop and be more ready to learn.

I just think it is never too early to start teaching my children these truly valuable life skills, that to win is good and to strive to win, and to do our best even more so.  That loss is not a bad thing, that there have to be losers for there to be winners, but this losing should not diminish the feeling of self-worth, but instead be seen as an opportunity to try again with verve.