My grandson, Mikah, is a gifted athlete. He is almost ten years old and already coaches are competing to have him play on their baseball team. My son, Jordan, has been working with Mikah, since he was little guy, on the fundamentals of baseball. He spent hours practicing his catching skills, fielding the ball and batting. Mikah loves baseball but he hates to lose. I remember calling him after a game, early in his career, and he was in a bad mood. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. “Our team didn’t win. I’m just a big loser,” he answered morosely.
“Wait a minute,” I replied, “just because your team didn’t win doesn’t mean you’re a loser. It means the other team played better today. The only way you’re a loser is if you don’t learn from your loss and repeat the same mistakes.”
“I guess,” he grumbled, “but I don’t like losing. I like to win.”
Everyone likes to win. There is glory in being a winner with all the applause and recognition. People congratulate you and adore you for your winning skills. Losing is no fun because you don’t get to share in the exaltation of the winning team. The focus isn’t on what you did right, it’s on what you did wrong. You lost the game or the contest because you just weren’t good enough—this time. Teaching children to be good losers can be a challenge but it is vital. Life is not always fair and everyone can’t be winners all the time. There is no shame in losing because loss can be an important opportunity to grow and learn.
Kurt Warner is an excellent example of a good loser. Kurt sat on the bench, until his senior year in college, before he became a starting quarterback. He played so well he won many accolades and awards. However, when he tried out for the Green Bay Packers they told him he just didn’t have the skills to be an NFL quarterback. It didn’t help that he was competing against people like Brett Favre! Kurt could have been a poor loser and given up but instead he realized he needed to try a little harder. He started playing for the Arena Football League and worked on improving his abilities. He had an opportunity to tryout with the Chicago Bears, in 1997, but an injury to his throwing arm prevented him from attending. These losses and obstacles could have been the end of Kurt Warner’s football career but he recognized them as opportunities to develop and mature. He went on to play in the NFL, won two NFL MVP awards as well as playing in two Super Bowls.
How do we teach our children to be good losers not only in sports but in every area of their lives? I believe there are two valuable principles we need to reinforce. The first principle is learning to appreciate and acknowledge the skill of others. The last thing you feel like doing, when you’re on the losing side, is congratulating the winner. It’s possible you’re smarter or more skilled than your opponent but a good loser will sincerely applaud the victor. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (NIV) A poor loser is self-centered and looking to make a name for themselves. They don’t care about anything other than their own gain. A good loser, on the other hand, appreciates the fact someone was better than they were and they make a point of congratulating the winner. This builds character in your child.
When my children were younger, I taught them the verse, “Even a child is known by his doings (actions), whether his work be pure and whether it be right.” (Proverbs 20:11 KJV) Actions determine how other people look at you. If a child is a poor loser, throws temper tantrums or pouts other people will formulate a negative opinion of them. If a child can exhibit excellent behavior, even when they don’t win a game or a contest, it demonstrates a winning and humble personality.
The second valuable principle is that losing is an opportunity to learn from mistakes. When I was in elementary school I was a whiz at spelling bees. I loved spelling and every Friday we would line up in two teams to see who the spelling champion of the class would be. Each week, I would be the winner on my team and would compete against the winner of the other team. One Friday I was not prepared. I hadn’t reviewed the words but thought my skill would carry me through. Unfortunately, I wasn’t standing as a winner on my team that week. I was horribly disappointed and sat down in my chair in despair. I could have given up, called myself a loser and ended my spelling career with that loss. However, the next week I reviewed the words and practiced and was again victorious.
Children need to understand a good loser evaluates their performance, decides what needs to be changed, and works hard to improve. 1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (NIV) I think of Wilma Rudolph when I read this verse. Wilma contracted polio when she was four years old and doctors told her mother she would never walk. In 1960, Wilma set a world’s record in the 200 meter race to qualify for the Olympics in Rome and went on to win two gold medals. Wilma could have considered herself a loser, because she had a terrible disease, but she used her disability as an opportunity to improve herself.
A good loser knows even if they didn’t win this time they can be a winner if they continue to work hard to “get the prize”. It’s easier to say, “Well, I’m not good at this so I’ll just give up.” We don’t do our children any favors when we allow them to give up a pursuit because they fail. We spend time with our children, work with them and encourage them. Losing is not the end but is a beginning and an opportunity to develop strength, endurance and character.
A good loser, like Kurt Warner or Wilma Rudolph, is a great example to our children. We need to give them positive examples of individuals who overcame loss to become winners. Our society is obsessed with and glorifies winners but losers can be winners when they exhibit a positive attitude, appreciate the hard work of others and work diligently to improve themselves. Life is full of moments when we don’t win the prize but God considers us winners when we don’t give up and keep running the race.