How To Talk to Your Kids About Winning and Losing In Sports

mom and son cheering over soccer

Supporting your kids as they get involved in sports can help them gain community, responsibility and resilience. As with life, playing a sport comes with highs and lows. Not all games will end in a win for your kid’s team. Here are some ways to help your kid understand that losing is part of life.

 

Start them off on the right foot

When your kids join a youth sports team, that’s a good time to talk with them about what it means to be part of a team. It’s not about winning games or being the star player. Talk to your kids about how sports are meant to be fun opportunities to get outside, move your body and connect with other kids and adults like coaches or parents. When the expectation is set from the beginning, then the outcome of a win or loss isn’t so important.

 

Be a good role model

If you play sports yourself, you have the opportunity to be a direct role model to your kids. Show them how practicing a positive attitude can make sports fun and rewarding. Talk about the importance of being a team player, and bring up examples of sportsmanship, like shaking hands with opponents and showing respect to the referees. 

 

You can also be a role model with how you react to watching sports on TV. Try not to bad-mouth the other team or grumble about a tough loss all day. Instead, you can say something like, “I’m bummed out that the Broncos lost, but I know it’s just a game and I’ll feel better soon.”

 

Talk about winning

Winning is fun! Winning feels like a celebration, a triumph. It’s natural for anyone, even a young kid, to want to win. Talk to your kids about what it means to win a game. More importantly, talk about what it means to win gracefully. When you get a win, it’s fine to celebrate with high fives and a few hoots and hollers. But, why not also high five or fist-bump the other team’s players for a game well-played? Talk to your kids about how to say, “Great shot!” or “Good try!” to their teammates as well as to the opposing team. When you see your kids showing great sportsmanship, acknowledge them. Reinforce how a few words of encouragement can help everyone have a better time. 

 

Talk about losing

It’s always tough to lose a game. When you try your hardest, it can be frustrating and disappointing not to win. Talk to kids about these types of emotions, and give them words to use such as “When I miss a goal, I feel frustrated,” or “Losing the game makes me feel sad.” Show your kids that these feelings are valid, but also that they won’t last forever. Talk about how to take a deep breath and give yourself a pat on the back for trying. Encourage your kids to remind themselves that “I did my best,” and to look ahead to the next game. 

 

Talk about something other than winning or losing

While it’s important to have open conversations about what it means to win and lose in sports, parents can take the emphasis off simply winning or losing by changing their approach to the post-game conversation. Try asking your young athletes things like, “how did you feel while you were playing?” or “what things did you work on in practice that helped you today?” It’s always a good idea to ask “what did you enjoy most about today’s game?” This can help kids remember to find joy in the experience, win or lose.

 

Why it matters

There are countless ways that sports offer allegories for life. Sports offer a meaningful way to introduce kids to feelings of celebration and disappointment — as well as how to cope with and respond to such feelings. It takes practice, and no one’s perfect. But with time, young athletes can gain a sense of perspective and resilience no matter the outcome of a game. 

 

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