Winning and losing is an integral part of playing sport and every athlete has had experience with the highs and lows of winning and losing, no matter their skill level. So it is not surprising that parents need to start the conversation and talk to kids about winning and losing from an early age.
For kids, the heart-pumping highs and devastating lows can be difficult to overcome, and a loss can take a toll on their confidence and self-worth. However, losing can also be a team-building experience and can help to establish resilience and good sportsmanship, all of which are important qualities children should have. Parents, and coaches, play a critical role in talking to kids about winning and losing so they have the tools and strategies to handle both situations.
How to talk to kids about winning and losing in sport
We know it’s not always an easy conversation to have, and sometimes, you don’t know how to approach it.
To help you get started and talk to kids about winning and losing, we asked Netballer and PlayBook coach Kimberley Ravaillion about her experiences with winning and losing throughout her career.
Kim, who plays for the Collingwood Magpies in the Suncorp Super Netball and also represents Australia, has had a lot of experience with winning and losing. She won her first ever grand final in 2015 and then again in 2016 when playing for the Firebirds, but that was only after falling short of the winning title in the ANZ Championships the previous two years (2013 and 2014).
Kim felt her biggest loss though last year at the Commonwealth Games when the Diamonds lost by just one point in the gold-medal match. Her mentor and teammate Laura Geitz was instrumental in helping her move on from the devastating low, giving Kim and the team some sound advice when the final whistle blew. Kim recalls Laura saying “be grateful for the opportunity to wear the green and gold. Hold your head high and be proud of silver.”
It’s advice that parents can use and share with their children, no matter what their child’s skill level is. By sharing examples and stories of elite athletes who have experienced the highs and lows of sport, it helps kids understand that winning and losing is a part of the game and to put the results into perspective. It highlights the importance of having your child reflect on the positives and be grateful for their experiences and the opportunity of being in the team.
Tips for talking to your child about losing
Kim said that a great way to use a loss on the field or court as a stepping stone is to create a new common goal together. For example, when her team lost a grand final in the ANZ Championships, they created a new goal as a team and that was to win the next grand final. They took the experience of losing and used it as motivation to train harder, perfect their skills and techniques and work better as a team next time around.
For parents, it’s helpful to encourage your children to do the same and to set an example amongst their peers who might be taking the loss harder or more personal.
Another tip from Kim, which is for parents whose child is feeling responsible for a team loss, is to remind your son or daughter that playing sport is a team effort and no one person is responsible for the success of the team as that will help restore some confidence.
This theme of focusing on input rather than output was also echoed by Trent Copeland in an article on PlayersVoice, where he spoke about his team’s dressing room culture and how the focus is on the process and not so much the outcome.
It’s important to talk to kids about winning and losing in this context because it helps them focus on how they performed independently and as a team rather than the final score.
On a similar note, Taylor McKweon spoke about what she does after a bad swim in her interview on the PlayBook blog, where she said the best advice is to take what you can from the experience and then put your performance into a box, move it aside and focus on what is ahead and what you can do to improve.
When you understand why you didn’t perform as well as expected, you can find a way to improve and get better, which is a sentiment that is important for parents to instil and for kids to keep in mind.
Tips for talking to your child about winning
Kim also shared some tips to help parents talk to their kids about winning and encouraging good sportsmanship on the field and court. She said it’s important to always be humble in your excitement and to celebrate the moment, but also shake hands with the opposition and appreciate the competitive nature of the game.
“Play to win but also play for all of the moments you create along the way” – Kim Ravaillion
Remind your child that playing sport isn’t just about winning and that people can play exceptionally well despite the final score, and that’s what’s most important. Encourage a positive sporting attitude and behaviour and help your children understand how they can accept winning with grace and empathy.
Tips to encourage good sportsmanship and start conversations with your kids
It’s important to talk to kids about winning and losing and start the conversation early. Here are some practices that you can incorporate into your life and routine and conversation starters to get the ball rolling.
Do praise athletes who don’t come first when you are watching sports on TV or live and highlight the athlete’s performance instead of the final score
Do encourage them to have fun when playing sport to emphasise their application of hard work over results
Do show empathy and sportsmanship – children copy the behaviour they see
Do provide constructive feedback and help them improve if they have asked for it
Do focus on what your child can control, such as their own skills or working better as a team
Do participate in their sport and team – volunteer for the canteen, help wash the jerseys or bring the oranges
Don’t put a sole focus on winning and coming first
Don’t make your first question “did you win?” when you talk to your child about their game or race
Don’t criticise and lecture them
Kim said a great way to start conversations with your child is to understand how they want to talk about their game and learn what to say, and what not to say. It’s also important to read their body language and take cues from their tone and mood so you can communicate in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable and supported.
Some helpful conversation starters are…
What did you enjoy about the game?
What do you think you have improved on since the last game?
What is something that you did at training that helped in your performance today?
What is something that happened in the game that inspired you?
How do you feel about how you played?
What do you want to practice for the next game?
Focus the conversation around their training and input rather than the outcome or final score to help your child develop a good relationship with their connection between contribution and commitment to performance.
Ultimately, it needs to be a conversation that starts early to instil good sportsmanship from a young age so as parents and coaches, we need to openly talk to kids about winning and losing. When kids know how to handle the highs and lows of winning and losing they are better placed to overcome challenges and setbacks without them impacting their confidence and self-worth, both on and off the field.
For more information about fostering good sportsmanship, check out our blog post which talks more about why it’s important to focus on skills rather than winning, losing with dignity and how role models can help instil good behaviour on and off the field.
Featured Image by Bj Pearce on Unsplash