Why can't we learn to be good losers?

My Recent Posts


People worry about how they want to raise their children.  Their babies should be smart, strong, well-mannered, industrious, confident, and many other good qualities.  Basically, we all wish for our kids to be winners.  No one would dream of teaching to lose or to fail.



Unfortunately, we are pushing so hard to make sure our special snowflake never has to feel the sting of coming up short at something, they are ill-equipped to handle adversity when it sneaks through our hovering.  That may not happen until we turn them loose on the world, and then they are in emotional crisis because they never had to figure out how to bounce back from anything. If everyone gets a trophy just for showing up, they get no value out of their effort.  Additionally, without a little adversity and struggle, winning seems empty as well if everyone gets the same reward.  So in our battle to make every kid a champion, they never learn how to be good losers or winners.


"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you strong."  While that sounds really harsh when talking about kids, it is still relevant.  Perhaps a better illustration comes from a Bobby McFerrin song, Discipline. "For those who have been trained by it, no discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful."  



When kids arrive in the world, the only mechanism to get their needs met is to cry, usually quite loudly.  They have no tolerance or patience.  As they grow in motor skills and vocabulary, they can start pointing and asking for things.  But if their desire is not met quickly enough or if their perceived need is refused, they go back to the wail.  So the parent has to decide if they are willing to endure the tantrum to teach moderation, or the battle is not worth it and they capitulate.  



No one wants to be a bad guy when a child is standing there with a quivering bottom lip and pleading eyes, but we need to give children the tools to work for what they want and to moderate their wants as well. To really be winners, children need to learn how to not always get what they want and stay functional.



Michael Jordan once said, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."  He turned failure into success because it drove him to improve.



Tiger Woods addressed it another way.  "People don't understand that when I grew up, I was never the most talented. I was never the biggest. I was never the fastest. I certainly was never the strongest. The only thing I had was my work ethic, and that's been what has gotten me this far."His father, Earl Woods, would make Tiger shoot from awful places.  Tiger learned early how to get out of the rough and the sand and to shoot blind toward a flag he could not see.  So when it came time to play for real, Tiger was equipped to get himself out of trouble and wasn't crippled by the mental block of a bad first shot.



Muhammad Ali took it even further.  "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'"  Most kids really don't like practice, no matter how talented the coach is at motivation.  If they could, they would just show up and play the game.  But Ali illustrated how dealing with hardship and the less than pleasurable aspect of training would one day bring a sweet reward.



All these men had adversity, and had to go beyond that to reach their goals.  So many kids have parents or coaches pushing them to win all the time, they begin to fear making a mistake of any kind.  Some get to the point where they are afraid to act on their own about anything, for fear if they aren't perfect they are nothing.



Fortunately, organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance seek to train coaches to not only teach their players to win, but how to learn from losing, and how to grow throughout the process in a positive way.  Rhode Island Little League coach Dave Belisle showed how this idea works after his team did not go all the way.  Even after they were eliminated , the coach says, "You have given me the most precious moment of my athletic and coaching career."  This coach taught his players to be proud of the good things they did accomplish and not let themselves be deflated by the scoreboard.



Obviously, it would be great if our kids never had to feel the sting of defeat.  No one likes to come in second.  But if we never let them experience that when growing up, they will have neither the confidence or the ability to handle misfortune of any kind when they go out on their own.  If we as parents and/or coaches can show the kids that losing is not the end of the world, but rather an opportunity to improve for next time, we will raise up confident problem solvers who will prevail in whatever vocation they choose.  



Instead of worrying about failure, they will grow up believing in success.  They will be able to stand tall and shrug off those who doubt them.   They will look at the world like Russell Wilson did in his quest for his first Super Bowl ring and say "Why not me?"


These and other articles can be found here.


Shane Dean is a professional writer and editor, as well as an advocate for many causes.


Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 2:59pm
I think you hit the nail on the head there, Ryan.  Most liberals never learned to work through adversity and instead want to punish those that work and do better than them.
Mike Haluska Added Feb 27, 2017 - 3:43pm
The problems with many youth sports organizations today is that they have been infiltrated by the Politically Correct Police.  Giving everyone a "participation trophy" instead of acknowledging the champion who worked the hardest and raised the bar is a recipe for a spoiled, entitled generation.
George N Romey Added Feb 27, 2017 - 3:49pm
I think it part of this narcissistic mentality that has affected our society.  People feel they are entitled to 15 minutes of fame, companies do anything including illegal activity to make a quarterly EPS, GS runs our government, actors think they are great orators and guardsmen our society.
Dino Manalis Added Feb 27, 2017 - 4:00pm
Losing is an important lesson in winning next time around.  You never give up!
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 4:20pm
Mike, you are right on.  They have helped create the culture that fears, (and is therefore paralyzed) by failure.
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 4:21pm
George, I had not thought of that angle, but that makes sense.  Used to be people took pride in their work without recognition, now many people WON'T work until someone gives them a merit badge just for breathing.
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 4:21pm
Dino, thank you for saying that.  Maybe I will use that when I get back in to coaching.
Bill Kamps Added Feb 27, 2017 - 4:46pm
Shane, all teams lose because in any league there is only one champion and nearly always that team has lost a few games. 
People say sports teaches us about life, but they dont often say what it is that sports teach us about life.  It doesnt teach us to win, or to be heroes, because that is easy enough to deal with.  It teaches us to lose, how to deal with the bad call, what to do when the ref blows a call and we lose the game.  This is not life or death, this is about having fun, and going on to the next game.
The world has gone crazy with replays, because there is this notion that we have to get every play exactly correct.  Well guess what ? the NFL is learning that even with replay, we cant know exactly what is a catch, and what isnt a catch.  People were advocating that a chip be put in the football so we know exactly what yard line the runner gets to, but guess what, we still need to know when his knee, or elbow hits the ground and that is a judgement call, unless we put sensors all over their body.
We are so groomed by video games, and by have to get everything perfect, that we forget that part of the game is the umpire or ref.  Some calls go for us, some go against us, it is part of life, and it is not a perfect world.  That is what sports teaches us.
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 4:56pm
Another great point, Bill.  I could extrapolate from your excellent comment that sports teaches us that things are not always fair, and we need to learn to deal with that.  I often use batting average as an analogy.  Ted Williams was considered awesome with a lifetime average of .400.  Which means he still didn't get a hit 60% of the time.  Life is more about dealing with disappointment than shining in the sun.
Janie Smith Added Feb 27, 2017 - 5:10pm
Why can't people just enjoy winning? 
Really, both/all sides can be so petty, so narrowly focused, and so incredibly ignorant...
Bill Kamps Added Feb 27, 2017 - 5:11pm
Shane, recently I saw where baseball players were chastised for "stealing signs" from the catchers.  Well we were taught how to disguise our signs as catchers so guys on 2nd base or in the dugout couldnt steal them.  Stealing signs was part of the game.  Just like the fake pick off move, the phantom ball trick, and blocking the catcher from trying to make a throw on a stealing base runner.  You push the rules, its part of the game.
Remember the Patriots being fined for filming and stealing signs in football, and this was considered cheating ?  Heck the whole point of the signs are to relay information to your team that the other team cant figure out.  If they can figure them out, good for them !  the signs should be changed game to game so they cant be stolen, it is not that difficult.
When we played basketball with a ref, it wasnt a foul if the refs didnt call it.  Interesting that the "cleaner" games were the games when there was no ref, and we called our own fouls, because then there was no ref to fool, or fouls made without getting caught.
We are ruining the games, by trying to make them perfect and removing the human element from the game.
Jeff Jackson Added Feb 27, 2017 - 5:39pm
Great article Shane. Certain people in this society are convinced that when they don't get their way, then the people who didn't give them what they wanted are biased, prejudiced, and hateful. We have a society that, as you have so astutely noted, can't deal with losing, and have been taught that they are special and deserve to win all the time. I sincerely believe this will leave us an unproductive, spoiled society who will use the key epithets whenever they don't get their way, and that is a recipe for an unproductive society.
George N Romey Added Feb 27, 2017 - 6:31pm
There would be nothing more touching when in the final game of a major sports championship where the players of both teams, the loser and the winner, would meet on the field at the end and congratulate one another for playing so hard and both being winners.  Think of the way the election was conceded in 2000 (under an unfair Supreme Court) to the way it was handled in 2016.  The Vagina Heads are disgusting because they offer no viable alternatives.  
Patrick Writes Added Feb 27, 2017 - 7:13pm
Great post. The 'Discipline' song quotes from the Bible. 
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Hebrews 12:11
Tamara Wilhite Added Feb 27, 2017 - 9:23pm
The root problem is equating morality with feelings. If it feels bad, then it is bad per that worldview - so frustration or disappointment are not to be allowed, and then people don't learn how to cope with them.
No one is allowed to be offended, so the child learns no one is allowed to express views they disagree with and those in power gain an army that thinks it is assault to express other opinions and responds to blasphemy with violence (liberals have picked this up from Islam, criticizing the ideology and its negative effects are an attack on the believers and to be destroyed).
The moral view that says what feels good is good and feels bad is bad denies that something can be bad for you while feeling good at the moment (single motherhood on children, drug addiction that inhibits productivity) and that good can come from hard effort and pain. It also equates tragedy with evil, because it assumes there is always a dark, malevolent force behind anything bad that happens. There is no room in the worldview for bad outcomes except bad intentions and evil people, so whenever something bad happens, they seek a victim - which the legalistic culture encourages. And it is never the victim's fault, if they live, since they were hurt, never their bad choices or mistakes. This denies personal responsibility, it must all be collectively everyone else's fault if one scapegoat isn't found.
Furthermore, this worldview means that good intentions that have bad outcomes are forgiven (as long as the intentions were liberally based). Multi-generational poverty, broken homes, suppression of free speech, suffering academic standards - irrelevant, because we did these things out of love, peace and tolerance. If the world is worse for it, it is because the evil people who don't share our "Love" are in the way, drive them out or outright kill them.
When you define morality based on feelings and deny self-responsibility and self-examination, you end up with fascism in the name of feelings. And that is how social justice warriors can burn down buildings and beat people with flag poles for daring to seek to attend a private event to listen to a speaker. It is also why they can't stand any other challenges in life barring joining in a mob to try to cost someone's job (weaponization of poverty), threaten harm or cause actual harm.
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 10:54pm
Thank you for your support, Jeff.  Sadly, I don't see us pulling out of this snowflake cycle any time soon.
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 10:55pm
George, we used to be like that, at least that I can remember.  Growing up I remember teams coming together after a hard fight for the championship, winners and losers giving each other heartfelt respect.  
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 10:56pm
Patrick, Bobby McFerrin's dad actually sang on that track with him.  I had to read the liner notes back in the day to learn that, but I remember thinking how cool it was a father and son shared that.
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 10:58pm
Tamara, your response reminds me of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, where in the future all books are outlawed and burned because the government was paralyzed by legislation meant to protect anyone from offense.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Feb 27, 2017 - 11:25pm
No one would dream of teaching to lose or to fail.
A drive through Appalachia or through many inner cities would show you so very many are being taught to fail. And they're damn proud of it.  
Shane Dean Added Feb 27, 2017 - 11:50pm
Sadly, those people were "helped" by the government just enough to buy their votes but not really lift them out of their situation.
Doug Plumb Added Feb 28, 2017 - 5:25am
I think that winning is just too remote of a possibility for a lot of people - winning means being the absolute best. Its not a practical goal to aim for - many people don't try hard at anything because winning has only one advantage for them - recognition.
  But it really is the journey, and people who have never tried and won cannot understand this. Winning gives one self respect and you don't have to be the very best to gain this, but you must absolutely earn it in one way or another.
  I am what most people would say as very ambitious. This does bother people as I am almost never relaxed, and I almost never work to win at conventional things, like trying to make the most money or to be the best dressed. I work to figure things out and understand them, or to be the fastest or best at my sport - swimming.
  Sometimes I think it is a personality shortcoming of mine as I prefer being around people that are less ambitious and do not understand my drive. I think that often they are better socially.
  In the case of Liberals, its bad - its brainwashing and mental illness.
  As a 52 year old that has been successfully self employed most my life, I have goals of writing another novel and making myself into a self made mathematician. I probably won't get any recognition for either of these things and I really just don't care.
  As a former math tutor I can honestly say that lack of confidence is a huge problem - the biggest, the lack of understanding of the work that goes into it is second. In our culture, people are made to feel inadequate if they are not winners.
Billy Roper Added Feb 28, 2017 - 8:55am
The idea of universal equality leads to shackling the best, as in 'Harrison Bergeron'.
Stone-Eater Added Feb 28, 2017 - 1:03pm
Why can't we learn to be good losers?
Because most don't have the personality to be good losers. It may damage some's egos.
BTW: One thing I like about the US is that you're (apparently) ALLOWED to fail. That's not the case in most of the rest of the world.
Leroy Added Feb 28, 2017 - 2:30pm
Great article, Shane.  I agree but I am helpless in the raising of my son.  I suppose it is a cultural thing.  The idea is to let the child do whatever he wants to do, to be free up until he starts school.  After that, he will no longer have freedom.  School will teach his discipline.  I am of the opposite mind.  He needs discipline from an early age. 
It is truly remarkable to the degree that a child is born able to get what he needs.  He gets whatever he wants from his mother, aunt, and grandmother.  If he doesn't, he punishes them.  He's sent all three to the hospital more than once--at that was before he was 18 months old.
If I try to discipline, he runs to mommie.  She protects him.  That's effectively what we have created today, adult kids who run to mommie whenever someone hurts their feelings.  We need more tough love.  I don't want my son to fear me; I also don't want to raise a whiner.
Shane Dean Added Feb 28, 2017 - 5:02pm
I hear your pain, Leroy.  Three sons, three very unique personalities, three constant dances between preserving their self esteem and teaching them to toughen up.  Still not sure if I am doing a good job, but none have been arrested yet and they treat others fairly decent.  Hang in there, Leroy.  There will be good days being a dad.
Shane Dean Added Feb 28, 2017 - 5:06pm
Doug, you bring up more good points.  And good on you for your self directed dreams.
I have gotten very frustrated with our education system, especially in the areas of math.  So many times I have had heated arguments with teachers because, even if my son in question got the correct answer, he still got the question wrong because he didn't go through some convoluted process to get there.  When I was growing up, if you could get the right answer that was enough.  But that is my Common Core rant and that is another blog post.
Stephen Hunter Added Mar 1, 2017 - 7:59am
Shane you are definitely on point with this article. It is not just children who can learn from this. We all have to understand that there will be adversity put before us. But is is how we deal with it that defines who we are as a human. Do we cower in fear or lay blame when something unexpected and what we perceive as negative happens? Hopefully neither and we accept the new facts and move forward. 
Shane Dean Added Mar 1, 2017 - 2:20pm
Stephen, I have never really mentored or coached adults, but my wife has for years.  I sort of stole her philosophy of how she trains people when I started coaching sports.  She used to work at Amazon in their complaint resolution center, and several times she had advocated for employees that she thought deserved promotions at various times.  Not because she thought they were perfect, but she felt they had the potential for vast improvement with the right mentoring.  When she had presented her case and if an employee got picked, she would have a frank discussion with them using the sandwich method.  That is where you place a criticism between two pieces of positive feedback, which is a research proven method of helping people take criticism in a positive way and use it to improve.  
Clearly, not every situation can be handheld in such a manner, but the results my wife got were pretty awesome most of the time, with her mentees very often moving up rather quickly, either at Amazon or moving on to great roles in other companies.
Obviously, delivering criticism the right way is different with children than adults...but not that much.  I remember a senior enlisted man in my Navy days who was actually a really good trainer.  He was not quite as much of a handholder but also was not a hard case like many in the military.  If he saw an action that needed correcting, he would be frank about what needed to be fixed, but would keep it factual and objective.  He was also very quick to note if you had done something well, and would frequently call it out to the division.
Leadership is a delicate balance, whether as a kids' sport coach or an adult supervisor in the working world.  But if people are fair and frank, a lot of good learning and improvement can be done. 
Stone-Eater Added Mar 1, 2017 - 2:32pm
Leadership means listen, respect, advice and integrate.
That's all. That counts for adults as well.
Stone-Eater Added Mar 1, 2017 - 2:33pm
BTW: All that psychological bullshit blabla on LI about leadership is a waste of time and webspace LOL
Jeffry Gilbert Added Mar 2, 2017 - 9:34am
because based on my experience
Shane Dean Added Mar 2, 2017 - 1:32pm
So, Joanna, your "experience" is more valid than mine?  And mountains of research into the declining involvement of children in youth sports?  And in your "experience", are kids and or parents always gracious in defeat?  Because in my America, there are kids who aren't taught to rise from adversity, but are buried under participation trophies by helicopter parents who can't stand the thought of their special snowflake ever being sad rather than learning from loss.  You must live in an amazing town where everyone behaves perfectly then.
Shane Dean Added Mar 2, 2017 - 1:32pm
Stone, you are right about a lot of the LI buzzword leadership clickbait.  Most of it is rubbish.
Shane Dean Added Mar 2, 2017 - 1:33pm
Thank you for your insights, MJ.  Hadn't thought of that angle.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Mar 2, 2017 - 3:59pm
You must live in an amazing town where everyone behaves perfectly then.
Joanna is a trust fund baby. Enough said. 
Shane Dean Added Mar 2, 2017 - 9:49pm
I hear you Tom.  One of the things that really annoyed me was I told every parent for the first part of the season I was going to rotate kids a lot, mainly because at this age I feel it is my job to give these kids as many learning opportunities rather than continually showcase a couple players.  
I remember one mother wanted to use the excuse that her son had some kind of learning disability or something like that and couldn't understand why he wasn't in the game.  Which was crap, because before the game even started I specifically told him that I wasn't going to sub him out for anything he did wrong but that I was rotating all the players on an equal basis.  He said ok.  I even showed his mother the chart I was using to keep track of everyone subbing.  She kept getting louder and the umpire finally told her that league rules required all coaches to rotate the players on an equal basis, then told her to sit down.  I learned later on in the season the boy's parents were divorced.  I also saw a marked difference between when his mother was at the game versus his father.  When dad was there, he smiled all the time and was very relaxed.  When mom was there, he was scowling and uptight.  I think the only real disability this kid has was his mother was a beeyotch.
I also made a point to explain to my son that he was going to be on the same rotation as the other kids.  I had no plans to play him all the time just because he was my son.  And he was totally cool with that, saying it was totally fair.
Sometimes I think kids would do better in sports if their parents stayed home.
Stone-Eater Added Mar 3, 2017 - 1:46pm
Sometimes I wish I could delete articles ;-)
Shane Dean Added Mar 3, 2017 - 1:53pm
Thank you for the aside update, Tom.  I wondered what was up since I didn't see you do that before.
On another note, thank you for braving the coaching role.  Kids need all the mentors they can get!
Shane Dean Added Mar 3, 2017 - 1:54pm
Stone, I concur.  Or at least remove them from my feed so I don't see the silly headlines...
Rex Added Mar 3, 2017 - 5:33pm
Shane when ever I have lost I have tried to do better next time.
I have always viewed failure or not measuring up as a lesson to help me prepare better for the next time. I have been able to do things better the next time.
In school If I got a "B" the next time I got an "A". I am the person who upon receiving an " A" paper back would start to revise it! Between the time it was turned in and the time I got it back I had discovered additional information I thought needed to be in it.
I too think we give too many kudos for being average. If you do that you or the child do not grow and strive to do better. Even now I am taking on line courses, writing for WB and will be starting a new job on the 13th. 
I am also investigating whether I can turn my political commentary into a blog. I still have quite a bit of research to do there. But, my point to you is that when you see the world as a challenge you have yet to master completely you investigate areas you have not worked on before.
George N Romey Added Mar 4, 2017 - 9:20am
Failure is the best teacher.  We have now raised a generation that is protected against failing. I see it in the business world.  Millennials that cannot make decisions unless they have streams of spreadsheets and "data" (and I use that word loosely) frozen in fear that they might make a wrong decision.  Gasp, they would have to admit the decision was wrong and try something else, gasp.
Stone-Eater Added Mar 4, 2017 - 1:00pm
Theory, no practice. In theory, you can't fail as much LOL
Shane Dean Added Mar 5, 2017 - 4:47pm
Nancy, that is really cool you turned negative experiences in to positime motivation. Those are the lessons I really hoped the kids that I coached picked up.
Shane Dean Added Mar 5, 2017 - 4:50pm
George, so true.  Analysis paralysis seizes so many of these people who fear "wrong".  Didn't used to be that way.  Any Rand spelled this put prophetically in Atlas Shrugged, where industry after industry died off because no one wanted to be responsible for a wrong decision 

Recent Articles by Writers Shane Dean follows.