Let Them Lose :: Why I Love When My Kid’s Team Loses

Let Them Lose :: Why I Love When My Kid’s Team Loses

My son’s rec league basketball team was terrible this year. I mean, really terrible. The kids were all from different schools, didn’t have much time to practice, and they were only able to win a handful of games. And I was so happy. He is a kid born lucky – his birthday is 11-11-11 – friends and strangers alike constantly tell him how lucky he must be. Losing so badly and so frequently was a shock to his system. 

Don’t get me wrong, I myself am an athlete and love a good competition. I love to win and win often. I also know that I have learned more from my losses than my wins. I’ve learned how to be a better teammate by losing. I’ve learned to identify problems, how to think fast to solve them, and, most importantly, not to panic or overreact to an obstacle. I’ve learned that failure is okay, even expected — as my dad used to tell me, the best hitters in Major League Baseball still get out 70% of the time!

My son also plays travel soccer and after each game, I ask two questions: Did you have fun, and did you play your best? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it is not. We cannot all be our very best every single day. It’s not reasonable and it’s not a fair expectation to put on our children. And sometimes, no matter how well you play, you just get beat. I honestly don’t care if his team won and, frankly, hope that they didn’t. He already wins at so much in life, a little humble pie is not the worst thing. 

Recently, NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked during a press conference if his 2023 season was a failure, because his team lost in the playoffs. I love so much about his answer, which is aligned with my own view on sports, I just have to quote him directly here:

“Do you get a promotion every year at your job? No, right? So every year, your work is a failure? No. Every year, you work towards something, which is a goal: It’s to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, provide a house for them, or take care of your parents. It’s not a failure, it’s steps to success…..There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not, some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. That’s what sport’s about.”

As parents, it’s natural to want to protect our children from disappointment and fuel their joy for as long as possible, especially if your kids are playing a costly and time-consuming travel sport. But what example do we set when we are so focused on winning that we are losing sight of the larger lessons? It’s just a game. Scouts are not attending 10U rec basketball games and elementary school is not going on your kid’s high school transcript. 

It’s the lessons that sports teach us that really matter, and that will really make an impact on our children’s futures. I had a corporate CEO tell me once that he doesn’t care what your major was in college – that if you played a team sport, he wants to hire you. You have the skill set to be a leader and the grit to overcome challenges. Perhaps we’d be better off just letting our kids lose once in a while. 

My son is growing fast and will soon pass me in height (and I’m 5’11”). I can’t wait for the day that he finally beats me in a one-on-one basketball game. Since he’s been old enough to understand, I have never let him win, not once. But now he knows that when he does beat me, as I am sure he eventually will, he’ll have earned it. 

Stephanie Davi McNeely has been in and around the nonprofit fundraising space for nearly twenty years. She oversees development and strategic partnerships, for the ACE Mentor Program of America, a national nonprofit mentoring program based in Philadelphia. There she is responsible for corporate and individual fundraising initiatives, as well as the growth and development of national partnerships with design and construction firms. In her spare time, she plays mom’s league softball, watches her son play soccer, takes French class through the Alliance, and serves as the First Lady of the University of Holy Cross in Algiers. She resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband and 11-year-old son.

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