The tarnished plaque on the Boy’s Club wall carried a message that resonates as much today as
it did forty years ago. That admonition, “Winners never cheat and
cheaters never win” speaks
volumes about the value of honesty, one of the guiding principles of good sportsmanship and fair
play. Unfortunately, some individuals place such a considerable emphasis on winning that they will
do just about anything to avoid losing.
“Winning is everything”, “it’s all or nothing” and “nice guys finish last” are some of the phrases
turned to emphasize the importance of winning. Given the choice, who among us would prefer
losing over winning in the sports arena or in life. From the moment we learned to crawl our
parents impelled us to compete, to win and to strive for excellence. However, along with our need
to win we must learn to do so gracefully and to lose with dignity. Children should be taught that
winning isn’t everything, it’s perfectly okay to lose and that there is simply no excuse for being a
sore loser or bad sport.
Given the choice, who among us would prefer losing over winning in the sports arena or in life.
From the moment we learned to crawl our parents impelled us to compete, to win and to strive for
excellence with precious little attention paid to learning the art of losing honorably.
Several years ago the nation was captivated by a local case of “sideline rage” when two fathers
engaged in a confrontation during a youth hockey game in Reading, Massachusetts leading to the
death of one and the imprisonment of the other. In this case there were clearly no winners only
lost lives and shattered families.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that hockey is an extremely tough, competitive sport with
fighting among the consequences of passionately playing a game one loves. Perhaps we should
toughen the penalties for fighting and try to do more to prevent such melees from occurring.
Recently I read about a new book “Goon” which apparently chronicles the career of an individual
who played minor league hockey and is now a police officer. The review spoke glowingly about
the book which apparently focuses on the altercations the individual was notorious for and the fact
that coaches used him on their teams for one primary purpose, his fighting prowess.
How can we push our children into a very physically demanding, tough sport that inspires intense
passion and skills to excel in and win, encourage them to compete then express surprise when
one of the kids or their parents gets carried away during the game. In the rage case cited above
can we truly blame the parents for acting upon their own passion in watching their sons play such
a competitive sport?
My son is an ardent sports fan and athlete who thrives on competition and plays to win. When I
told my son about the hockey rage case he was incredulous that two adults could get into a fight
over what he called “just a game”. I think that the majority of his teammates feel the same way. As
parents we could learn a great deal about fair play from our kids by watching how they conduct
themselves after the final whistle is blown.
Perhaps the parents involved in the case above had visions of their children becoming
professional athletes and commanding the adulation and status that accrues to them. Given the
exorbitant salaries superstars earn today that is certainly an enviable goal. I would love to see my
son develop his skills to their utmost potential and become a pro, if that is what he truly desires.
Unfortunately most of our kids will never become pros regardless of how talented they are and
how far we try to push them.
As parents of young athletes we have to keep things in perspective and remember that our kids
are simply playing a sport and learning how to interact with others. Valuable lessons and social
skills that will stay with them as they develop into young men and women. We have to let our kids
know that they are winners and that we love them unconditionally regardless of whether they finish
first or last.
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