Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports

After a weekend out of town at my son’s soccer tournament, I’m a little tired of hearing, “Did you win?”  It was, without question, the single-most popular question of the weekend. Even strangers in the hotel would ask my uniformed son, “Didja win?”  And each time he would sadly reply, “No,” followed by an awkward silence.

For an 11-year-old boy who loves to win, it’s not easy, especially when you lose all three games.  Especially when you drive 5 hours each way to make it happen.
DSC00625
O for 3.
Winless.
Losers.

And yet he and his teammates played so hard and so well. They did all that their coach asked them to do.  They pressured the ball on defense.  They stayed spread out.  In particular, they passed the ball much better than all the other teams.  They put together nice plays and took more shots than the other teams.  They kept playing hard, giving their best – body, mind, and heart – even when knocked down over and over without a foul being called.   Shot after shot would hit the goalposts or just miss the net.  But then they’d give up a breakaway goal to the other team.

It was so frustrating because we should have won at least one of those three games, if not all three.

So my wife and I had several talks over the weekend about how frustrating it was to lose those well-played, well-fought games.  At first, we were a mixture of mad and sad.  However, ultimately, we realized that we were all wrong.  We needed to see the bigger picture.

DSC00669We recalled that our coach, and our soccer club as a whole, wants to develop soccer players.  Their theme is, “Play the game for the game’s sake.”  And at this age level their stated goals are: “smartness of play; overall field vision; desire for the next step.”  It’s all about loving the game, playing it the right way, and becoming a better player.

Winning is not the ultimate goal?  Nope, it’s about fourth on the list.  And isn’t that the way it should be?  And yet that is somehow so very un-American.  Maybe that’s why Americans don’t like soccer.  There isn’t a lot of scoring.  Individual stars don’t stand out as much.  And quite often the better team walks away with a tie or a loss.  That’s why I disliked soccer when I was younger.

But now, I appreciate it, even after an “0-for-3” tournament.  Our five-hour trip back home was full of discussions about how our son has improved, is improving, and needs to improve.  We talked about how life is like soccer: it takes teamwork, hard work, and smart work.  And winning will come eventually.  But it can be a lot of fun along the way if you have the right perspective, win or lose.

So, our son is excited to get back to practice to work on his weaknesses, to make good on his past mistakes with his teammates. He’ll be working on trapping the ball and staying on his feet when getting pushed around.  He’ll be playing for the love of the game and to be better than he once was.

That’s a winner.

Author: Andy Kerckhoff

I'm a husband, father, teacher. I'm doing my best, wishing I could do better, and trying to help others to effectively lead kids through early adolescence.

2 thoughts on “Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports”

  1. Very well written.
    I thought the team played very well. I have seen significant improvement in the ability of a number of players over time. I am sure none of us will remember the score 10 years from now.

  2. As a player, coach and soccer business owner, I loved reading this post. It’s like the ah-ha moment of life when you realize that soccer is a microcosm of life and has so many lessons to offer and so much fun and inspiration to provide everyone involved. It is the world’s game for a reason.

    Your club and its administrators should be saluted for “getting it exactly right.” Player development, character building and fun results in the best players and people over the long-term and collectively keeps players involved in the game because they enjoy it. There is a reason that your son wanted to get back on the field – even after losing three times. After many years of coaching, I can tell you that it is the parents who are more interested in the winning and losing. The kids just want to play. Don’t believe me? Watch how fast they’re asking to go downtown with their friends after a match – even while you’re still discussing the nuances of every minute of the match. Give the game back to the kids!

    Winning or losing is simply a measurement of development in one second of time – and often changed given the finicky nature of youth players and mindsets on any given day. Sure, holding players accountable to do and be their best is very important, but shouldn’t be sacrificed at the expense of winning.

    Your post encapsulates my favorite word: perspective. Work hard to cultivate perspective and your life gets a whole, whole lot better. Thanks!

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