This is the third in a series of six articles about raising boys to be good sports.
#3 Wanting to win is okay as long as no one ends up demoralized in the process.
Winning feels good. Losing—not so much. In fact, losing feels bad enough that winners don’t really need to rub it in. Rubbing it in isn’t being competitive or hungry or alpha or manly; it’s just being mean.
If you’re trying to get a read on the quality of your son’s sportsmanship, spend time observing how he handles his emotional reactions to winning and losing. You don’t even have to wait for the “big” game; you’ll see it in a lot of places—everywhere from neighborhood pick-up games to team practices to family board games to impromptu thumb wrestles to a race to be the first to get to the trampoline out back. What does he do when he wins? Does he keep his sense of humor? How about when he loses? Watch how he addresses—or doesn’t—the kids whose trash talk gets a little heated or who cheat or who tease the less athletic kids. Does he join in? Does he get uncomfortable? Does he push back on it? Help him figure out ahead of time what he could say if he wants to support the kid who’s being teased or left out. If he doesn’t want to stick up for other kids, hold off on responding angrily and instead ask him what stops him intervening (inadequate social cachet? worried about becoming teased himself? doesn’t know what to say? doesn’t care enough to stick his neck out?). The purpose of asking isn’t necessarily to suddenly “make” him do the “right” thing but rather to begin a conversation with your son about the kind of person he wants to be in settings that result in winners and losers. A conversation like this that can grow over time is much more likely to influence a child in positive ways than a lecture about sportsmanship. Some kids want to be kind but find that the social codes surrounding sports and competition in their community or among their peers don’t allow them to demonstrate this publicly. This sort of candor and reflection often emerges once you exchange lectures for conversations in which you genuinely inquire about your children’s experiences with different types of competition.
In the end, it wouldn’t hurt for us to teach all our kids that the world offers up bountiful opportunities for feel-good moments and that winning is just one way to get there.
— Janet Sasson Edgette