As the Winter Olympics get close to the end, a few words about Winning and Losing…
Sports and games are a big part of our lives, whether it’s watching the pros on TV, playing in your weekend house league, or even a friendly game of Monopoly just to pass the time. As archaeologists continue to prove, it’s been like this for as long as we’ve had civilization. Games like Chess and Go have been around for over a thousand years, some others even longer. The Mayan peoples of Mexico played a sport that was kind of a cross between basketball and soccer, and they even built special courts and stadiums for it. (Maybe they had their own version of the World Cup?)
It’s in the nature of all living things to compete, even over things as basic as food resources, shelter, and a quiet place to sleep at the end of the day. We humans have elevated that into something a little more sophisticated. I imagine that among the first people, there was probably someone who could hunt faster, or grow better crops than everyone else. Nowadays that guy would probably get a Nike endorsement for his bow and arrow, or use Gatorade-sponsored farm tools.
The problem starts from the natural fact that any competitive act has a winner and a loser. And losing always stings, even if it’s just a little bit. Our modern culture places a huge emphasis on winning. Even the word “loser” is a common insult.
From an early age, we adults try (or should, at least) to teach you that the game itself is the main thing, that it’s all about having fun and building skills. Some leagues don’t keep score, some don’t run playoffs, and most hand out medals to every kid instead of one big trophy. Kids usually keep track of the score themselves, anyway. They can’t help it – it’s the nature of competition.
I agree that kids’ games should be kept fun and skills-focused, but I also think it’s necessary for you to experience winning and losing. After all, the competitions in life don’t stop as you get older, and no one is going to give you a participation medal if you get passed over for a job. You should get to enjoy the highs of success, as much as you should learn to deal with the lows of coming up short. And it’s important to learn that, even when you work hard, and do your work flawlessly, things still might not go your way.
When you learn these things, it’s easier to remember to show respect for everyone who competes. You remember to be modest when you win, and to control your anger when you lose. This is something that grownups sometimes have trouble with. I’m sure you remember those parents who’ve gotten too excited from the sidelines, who’ve said and done things they definitely shouldn’t.
The spirit of the Olympics encourages us to take this respect even further. Unfortunately, during these Games I’ve read some pretty awful online comments criticizing our athletes for failing to win gold. Of course it’s disappointing and frustrating to lose, but to call Patrick Chan an “embarrassment to Canada” because he got a SILVER medal? To make these young athletes feel they have to apologize for not winning, when they’ve clearly given it their all?
Please don’t be that kind of person. That’s the real loser.