Prep Sports

Turning sports losses into victories

Justis column: This is especially helpful for youths

Losing can be a good thing in sports at times, especially if the athlete learns from the experience. (The Gazette)
Losing can be a good thing in sports at times, especially if the athlete learns from the experience. (The Gazette)

When it comes to sports, one of the biggest dichotomies is the adage “you can win while losing.”

Particularly in youth sports.

Seriously. Losing can be a victory. It’s just one of the lessons kids can learn by playing sports.

I never say I hope my grandsons lose a game. I should. Not every game, just often enough to bring them back to reality.

In life, you don’t win every argument, every contest, every job interview. Some life lessons need to be learned early, the earlier the better.

Because we live in an age when second-best is not good enough. Winners are remembered, losers are quickly forgotten.

In his column posted recently in The Columbian, Greg Jayne wrote sports slogans can be OK, but “when it comes to fifth-grade basketball, I prefer ‘Success is a journey, not a destination.’” He quotes Winston Churchill as saying, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

“There is value in losing, and there are lessons that cannot be learned from winning all the time,” Jayne writes. “Losing once in a while in sports — instead of something that truly matters — can be particularly valuable. Failure leads to self-reflection and self-motivation while providing the road map to eventual success.

“Athletics are inherently competitive and provide resolution at the end of the day ... Winning is more fun; but losing can be more instructive.”

One of Vince Lombardi’s most famous quotes is: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-time thing.” But that isn’t the whole quote. “You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

So what happens when you are facing a much tougher opponent? Winning can be accomplished even though the scoreboard says otherwise. Did you at least put in the effort? Did you “leave it all” on the court or field? Did you compete, did you prepare, did you give yourself totally to the experience? Then you still won. If you didn’t do all of the above, then you’ve lost twice.

There has been much debate over the need for trophies given in youth sports, whether it be for winning a tournament or merely for participating. Ashley Merryman wrote in the New York Times: “The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.”

We as parents and coaches need to encourage our young athletes to see obstacles and problems as opportunities, not as consequences of failure. I ran across this column by John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project a while ago, titled “How to Raise a Lion Chaser.” It mentions how we can help kids see the opportunities of facing their own fears.

He lists five ways:

1. Lion chasers realize impossible odds can become improbable victories. “A lion chaser will embrace the challenge. Teach your athletes that the bigger the chances of failure, the greater and more fulfilling the achievement is when successful.”

2. Lion chasers cure the fear of failure through failure. “The cure for the fear of failure is not success; it’s failure. You must be exposed to small quantities of whatever it is you are afraid of in order to build up immunity to it ... if your child is a dominant player in his age group, then give him the opportunity to play up an age or two, so he does not experience only success. If he is always playing on a winning team, then find him a weaker one to guest play for, and experience disappointment. If he is dominant in one sport, try another sport where he may have to be a role player for a while.”

3. Lion chasers redefine success and failure. “Instead of being the parent who is always there to ‘get your child out of’ difficult circumstances, instead become the person who advises your child to ‘see what you can GET OUT of this situation.’ We can change (their) perspective from ‘winning and losing’ to ‘winning and learning.’ The importance of their journey is no longer reaching a destination, but what they become on the path.”

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4. Lion chasers focus on effort and not ability. “Praise our children for the effort, which they control each and every day. They do not control wins and losses in most sporting events ... But a lion chaser controls her effort and focus each and every day.”

5. Lion chasers know playing it safe is risky. “Small changes, small choices and small investments can pay off handsomely and have major consequences ... It all starts with taking the first risk to dream big, and making the initial commitments to follow that dream. It all starts with NOT HAVING regrets over inaction.”

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