Coping with winning and losing

pexels-photo-28807The winter sport season sees most folk on the side-lines of pitches, courts, and fields up and down the country in support of our kids’ sporting endeavours. Frosty mornings, chilly evenings, the thrill, the challenge – we do it because we like to be there and help support them to try and do their best, however children struggling to deal with disappointment are often a significant stumbling block to many families’ enjoyment of sport.

No matter what they play, whether or not there’s a team to work with or simply doing their own personal best, the business of winning and losing isn’t a straightforward one for many kids. And hopefully, that’s a part of the reason why you’ve encouraged them to be there.

Any muscle that’s to grow stronger needs to have a little weight on it, and handling the disappointment of losing is no different. It’s tempting with children who really struggle with this to avoid sports, or competition of any kind (even family board games) if they reliably cause a meltdown when somebody else wins rather than themselves. While it might be embarrassing or upsetting to watch them to behave poorly once they lose, they absolutely need those experiences so that they can learn that the feelings aren’t quite as intolerable as they think.

field-hockey-game-action-girls-163432Try not to draw your child off to one side, or away from the crowd, if you feel they’re making a spectacle, because of course that won’t help. Instead, try not to worry about how your child’s behaviour may look to others or what they might think. Stand with them, support them, put an arm around and commiserate with the way they feel.

Don’t let them lash out or be disrespectful to anyone, but do let them feel the disappointment and everything it carries wash over them. When the moment is right offer words of wisdom, like, “There’s a winner and a loser in every game, no one can be the winner every time”, “Losing helps to show us where we can improve for next time”, or “This is hard, but what you’re feeling right now will pass”. Keep the understanding high, and the condemnation low. Let them feel your belief in their ability to cope with the disappointment. They can borrow yours until they feel their own!


By John Cowan, The Parenting Place

Improving and equipping families to thrive.

Read more from John and The Parenting place here.