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Learning to Lose

by Ronald A. Rowe | October 27th, 2010 | Elementary
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Self-esteem is the rallying cry in education in the 21st Century. T-Ball teams no longer keep score. Single elimination playoffs are out of vogue. Chess club now gives “participant” trophies to every member. Schools have removed the stigmatizing “F” from failing papers and replaced with a somehow-less-esteem-destroying “U”.

In all the efforts to build up self-esteem, this generation of children is being deprived of a very necessary skill – the ability to handle defeat. Nobody wins them all. A good major league baseball team will lose sixty or more games a year. A really historically great one will still lose forty games a year.

My son’s flag football team lost their final game on Saturday, a close contest against an undefeated team. My heart was broken at the reaction of some of the players: 10, 11, 12-year-old boys breaking down in uncontrollable crying on the field because they never learned how to lose.

I’m not advocating cut-throat competition starting in kindergarten, but it is time for kids to learn how to lose. They are going to face it soon enough. As soon as they hit a competitive level in sports, academics, performance, music – whatever it may be – they’re going to have to learn how to lose gracefully. Better for them to learn now while the stakes are still low than when there are big consequences on the line.

I am wholeheartedly opposed to pushing a winning-is-everything outlook on our children. That is at least as bad as the current winning-is-nothing approach in which we pretend that losing doesn’t exist. There must be a happy medium – where we teach our children that we play to win, but that playing by the rules and giving your best effort is more important.

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