What the Olympic Games Can Teach Kids About Winning and Losing

Aug 11, 2016

When it comes to winning and losing, we send our kids some mixed messages. On one hand, governing bodies in youth sports — soccer particularly — have suggested and passed policies to either downplay or eliminate official scoring for children under 12. The intent is to take the pressure of scoring and winning off the kids so they can just have fun and learn skill development. In theory, this makes sense. 

But then every two years as a summer or winter Olympics rolls around, we have a big push to “own the podium,” where it seems that winning is the only thing that matters. The same can be said when it comes to a run at the Stanley Cup or the World Series pennant. See how this could be confusing for our under-12 crowd? “We don’t have good handle on what we want our kids to get out of sport,” said Anne Bowker, an associate professor in the psychology department at Carleton University.

For most of us, our children will not go on to be elite athletes where winning is the main goal. The 2016 Olympic games is sure to provide an opportunity for you to talk about winning and losing with your child, and the importance of it because — let’s face it — life is full of winners and losers and they will need to learn this sooner or later. But there are lots of other lessons that can be taught as well. 

Lesson: It Takes Dedication to Reach Goals

Clearly, our Canadian Olympians are headed to the games to bring back a shiny medal, and when that happens it presents a great opportunity to talk to kids about dedication and hard work. Bowker suggests avoiding the if-you-work-hard-you-can-win-a-medal-too route as this may put too much pressure on kids. Drawing comparisons to your child’s current activities and goals may be a better tactic. For example, listening to their swimming teacher during lessons, or practicing karate outside of regular classes, is what will get them that next badge or belt they’ve been wanting.

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Lesson: Losing Can Be Positive

Winning reinforces lots of positive messages, but so can losing. Missing out on a medal might still mean a personal best for an athlete. A loss can lead to a productive conversation about personal goal setting and trying to do your very best for no other reason than to improve your skills. “You want kids to be intrinsically motivated,” explained Bowker. 
Kelly Russell, a member of the Canadian women’s rugby sevens team that recently won the bronze medal in the Rio Olympics, says there’s more to why she plays rugby than the bragging rights of winning. She’s been playing rugby at an elite level for 10 years and said, “I play because I get fulfillment out of it, and I play because I love it. I just want to be the best rugby player that I can….It’s important to me to set goals for myself and try to achieve them.” And, she’s quick to point out that her team looks at wins and losses as learning experiences.

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Lesson: If One Sport Isn't A Fit, Try Something New

Soccer and swimming are often synonymous with summer of kids, but there are so many other sports out there that children can try. The Olympics can give kids a glimpse into other activities they (or you) may not have thought of. Maybe you’ll have to start looking into your local archery, synchronized swimming or wrestling clubs when the Olympics is over. 

Article Author April Scott-Clarke
April Scott-Clarke

Read more from April here.

April Scott-Clarke is a freelance writer and editor living in rural Ottawa with her husband, two kids, two dogs, and a handful of chickens. She writes about parenting issues, health and the outdoors. Follow her on Twitter @AScott_Clarke.

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