As a sports parent, what do you say to your youngster who has just experienced “the agony of defeat” for the first time in their very young career?
That kind of parental experience inspired sportswriter Sam Weinman to write a new book with the provocative title, WIN AT LOSING: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains. The father of two boys, 11 and 8, Sam starts his book talking about how one of his young boys had a meltdown after losing in a tennis match. Sam gave his son some time to feel the sharp pain of the defeat, but then after a few hours and after his son had calmed down, Sam tried to explain to him that the best way to deal with a defeat is to try and take away what part of your game needs to be worked on, what you need to improve on.
Without those significant takeaways, one will be stuck at the same level in sports, never really making progress to get to the next level. That’s the key in terms of winning at losing. Ironically, suffering a defeat can actually prove to be much more beneficial in one’s long-range career because if a youngster is so gifted early so that he or she lose, then they sometimes don’t learn to fully their game. That is, any possible weakness in their game is masked by their wins, and as such, they don’t feel the need to go out and work on their game.
But when you lose….well, that’s the wake-up. Young athletes begin to realize that they need to improve their game. They start to go out on their own and practice, practice, and practice. It might be working to develop their dexterity in dribbling a basketball with either hand. Or learning how to skate faster backwards. Or whatever the skill may be, the youngster who just flat-out decides to improve their game by having that inner drive to go out and work is key.
THE RIGHT GENES?
I have always felt – but certainly can’t prove it – that having that inner drive to push oneself to get better in sports is perhaps a genetic trait. That is, some kids seem to be born with that kind of drive. Most others simply don’t. They are okay with their skill level, and see no reason to work any harder at it. But if you see your son or daughter at age 8 or 10 or 12 going outside – without any push from you – to work on their athletic skills on their own, you can rest assured as a parent that your child has been blessed with that inner drive to succeed.
To my way of thinking, there is no better barometer of a kid’s desire to want to get better – not just in sports – but in life in general.
But back to Sam’s book. He recounts a number of stories of how individuals dealt with setbacks, and only a handful deal with sports. He writes about entrepreneurs who cope with start-up issues, business executives, health and injury comebacks, and so on. One of the more poignant stories deals with the Columbia University football team which, back in the late 1980s, didn’t win a game for four season. That’s right – there were football players who never won a game in college.
Sure, they came close a few times. But in the end, they never had the joy of a celebratory locker room. Sam writes about these dedicated football players and how they bonded together, and how so many of them took away the hard-earned discipline they developed at Columbia to become successful doctors, lawyers, Wall Street types, and so on.
WE ALL LOVE UNDERDOGS
The beauty about sports, of course, is that as much as we love to win, we all celebrate the underdog’s achievements – especially that individual who had to overcome setbacks.
Everybody know s about Michael Jordan being cut from his HS team. But did you know that Derek Jeter made 56 errors in his first year of pro ball in just 126 games? Yet he seemed to overcome that terrible fielding average and do okay. Pat Eilers, a wide receiver who transferred to Notre Dame from Yale even though his football coach at Yale told him “he would never even make the team at Notre Dame” ended up scoring the winning TD in the famous Catholics v. Convicts game between Miami and Notre Dame. Hall of Famer Steve Young went from 8th stringer at BYU and didn’t even dress in uniform for home games to All-American in three years.
In short, adversity is the stuff of sports. It happens everyday. The real question is: how will your son or daughter react to it when it hits them?