Winning and Losing Well

My youngest daughter hates to lose. It doesn't matter if she's playing in a playoff hockey game or racing her sister to the car, she wants to win. Much to the frustration of her sister and friends, she would rather quit in the middle of a game than finish it and lose.

While that drive to win can be a great motivator, it can also be a liability. I don't know how many tears have been shed in this house over the years over losing a board game or a Wii game. We spend a lot of time talking about not being a sore loser.

But as important as it is to know how to lose well, it's also important to know how to be a gracious winner. My youngest daughter tends to be a bit on the obnoxious side when she wins something. I do believe the words "In your face" and "I'm the best" have been known to come out of her mouth on occasion.

In the past six months, we've been working with her on learning to win and lose well because winning or losing in life is often based on talent and/or luck. How you act when you win or lose, however, is based on your character. Whether you win or lose says nothing about who you are. How you win or lose reflects what is in your heart.

Our kids are going to win and lose at things all through life. How they deal with the highs and lows that come along with those wins and losses reflects back on God. Graciously congratulating the winner when they lose or complimenting the loser for a well-played game when they win shows humility and maturity.

Proverbs 11:2 tells us "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." When our children are arrogant winners or poor losers, it's a reflection of pride taking a hold in their heart. That poor reaction to losing is rooted in the idea that "I'm too good to lose." The obnoxious celebration of an arrogant winner stems from the attitude that "I'm better than you."

Neither of those are attitudes that are pleasing to God. Humilty isn't easy to teach, especially if you have a child who doesn't like to lose. But it's an important lesson that will make a difference in our children's lives as they mature.

  • Before your children enter into a sports, dance or other competition, pray with them. Pray that they would do their best and that they would accept both winning and losing with a gracious spirit.
  • Institute a no quitting rule in your home. Whether it's a board game or a championship game, it's important to finish what you start. If your child is allowed to quit every time he thinks he's going to lose, the he never learns to lose well.
  • Don't shelter your children from losing. Always letting them win at a game is not giving them the opportunity to learn to lose. It's OK to beat your 4-year-old at CandyLand sometimes. It gives them an opportunity to deal with the feelings that come with losing. If our children never lose at anything until they're older, it's a lot harder for them to learn how to deal with it.
  • Make sure your kids know that their value to you and to God is not tied up in whether they win or lose a game. Our kids will place too much value on winning if they think that is the only way they can gain our approval. Even when your kids lose, find things to focus on that they did well. Use the loss as a learning experience about what to do better next time but also find time to focus on good things they did in the loss.
  • Talk with your kids about how to handle a loss. Explain that temper tantrums and blaming the other person or team for a loss does not reflect humility and graciousness. Encourage them to find something good to say to the other player or team, congratulating them on their win.
  • Talk with your kids about how to handle winning. If your team is up 10-1, then celebrating your eleventh goal with fist pumps and jumping up and down is just rude. While it's exciting to score, we need to always take into consideration the fact that the other people playing the game have feelings, too.
  • Remind your kids that how they win or lose is what is important. Winning is fun, and losing is tough, but our reaction to those circumstances is much more important than whether we actually win or lose.

It's never fun to lose. I don't know anyone who says, "I hope I lose this game," but winning isn't the most important thing in life. A humble spirit and a willingness to reflect God's love to others is much more important to God than whether you win a game. God cares whether you win or lose well -- not whether you win or lose.