Sometimes Losing is the Lesson

by Shannon Hembree on August 1, 2012

Can we talk kids sports for a minute? It’s the Olympics after all, and those athletes likely started young. I have a love-hate relationship with kids sports. First the love – they keep kids active – and equally as important – out of the house. They help kids improve their coordination, foster their sense of teamwork, and learn the importance of healthy bodies. On the downside, they are expensive, they require you to be an on-call chauffeur, and they are a huge time suck. Oh yes, and have I mentioned the sports parents? You know the ones I mean – they are the ones the rest of us whisper about. They are the super-competitive parents who are convinced their child is being shorted, overlooked, and mistreated.

Back when I was a kid – you know… when we had to walk uphill both ways – there were no equal playtime agreements in sports. There were no trophies-for-everyone policies. If you were good enough to make the team, you made the team. If you were good enough to start, you were a starter. If you won, you got a trophy. If you weren’t or you didn’t, you had to suck it up.  (Note to the rule-makers for Olympics gymnastics, this writer thinks it should be the best overall gymnasts who advance to the finals and not just the best two from each team. Sorry…side note gripe there).

So back to kids sports….If you don’t want your child in competitive sports, don’t put them in competitive sports. Your child can take tennis lessons without being on the tennis team. They can take soccer lessons without being on a soccer team. In most places, they can take lessons in everything without being on a competitive team.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that competitive teams shouldn’t be accommodating, but at some point, they should be…well…competitive. And the coaches shouldn’t have to be at the beck and call of every parental complaint out there. Your child isn’t getting enough playtime? Your child’s team lost and they didn’t get a trophy? Why not take the opportunity to explain to your child how life works.

Now before you go all crazy sports parent on me – no, I am not writing this from the perspective of someone who was a star athlete and can’t relate to those who are not. Yes, I played sports – from junior high through the first couple years of college. I could hold my own in many (not all) cases, but I was never great, and I had my share of not making the team moments and of having my team lose moments (lots and lots of the latter, in fact). I know what it’s like to ride the bench, and I know what it’s like to play. I was given the chance to shine, and I was given the chance to learn what it feels like to be told I don’t have what it takes to make the cut. There are valuable lessons in both.

We seem to have lost sight of these lessons somewhere along the line. Life isn’t always about winning (unless you are Charlie Sheen). It is also about losing. Learning how to accept failure and disappointment gracefully when we are young helps prepare us to accept those things gracefully later in life.

It’s one thing if the coach is being an ass. It’s another if they are doing the best they can to field a winning team, and they are doing it in an upstanding way (according to the world at large, not just you). If the latter is the case and you are just complaining about your kid not getting enough playtime or not being a starter or anything in between, then just know the rest of us parents are talking about you. And we aren’t saying nice things. Because while you are ranting and raving about how sports aren’t fair, you’re teaching your child a lesson for a lifetime – the problem is, it’s a lesson that your child would be better off not having learned.

Shannon Hembree used to play sports…poorly. Now, she has bad knees and worn-out feet, and she believes that walking up the stairs carrying either laundry, a toddler, or sometimes both, absolutely counts as a workout. She thinks that the US women’s gymnastics team – and all of the athletes competing in these Olympics – are pretty much rock stars. But that may be because she can’t name any current rock stars…unless the Fresh Beat Band counts…

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura H. August 1, 2012 at 9:47 am

BINGO. well said!! 🙂 (and i refuse to count the Fresh Beaters as rock stars. oy.)


Shannon August 1, 2012 at 9:49 am

Ha ha — and the worst part is that sometimes I find myself singing their songs around the house — ack!


Jen August 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Amen, sister!


Shannon August 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm



Alexandra August 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

SO true, Shannon! I think kids don’t realize how much it takes to be a truly GREAT athlete or Olympic athlete… They have to give up a LOT of free time… I told Madeleine that if she wants to make the soccer team when she’s 9 (seems a little early to weed, but that’s the way it works here…) She needs to do clinics this year and dedicated soccer camps and she said “I’d rather play with my brother”. A girl after her mother’s own sports heart, btw… At least she knows, the kids who “play” as you get older, typically work very hard to be where they are, and if you’re not one of those kids, great, but it’s a choice! Wow, didn’t know I had a sports rant in me!! 😉


Sarah August 2, 2012 at 11:49 am

It’s ridiculous the way parents act these days. If your child sucks at sports, sorry about that. You summed it up when you said it is a competitive thing after all! This is a life lesson in all areas. You aren’t doing your kids any favors by blowing hot air up their asses their whole lives. Thankfully, my 2 year old is perfect at everything. 🙂


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