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What Happens When You Work Hard and Don’t Win?

USA Flag Over Baseball Scoreboard

One of the most valuable life lessons that youth sports can teach children is that when you want to win you have to work hard; and that those who work hard will be rewarded.

Showing up to practice on time, always giving your best and playing well as a team will ultimately result in success. But what happens when it doesn’t? What happens when your child plays fantastically and their team still loses? What happens when you work hard and you don’t win?

Playing sports helps children learn about rules, fair play, right and wrong. In a perfect world, the team that worked harder would win because they deserve it; that’s fair. However, in youth sports two evenly matched teams are going to go up against each other sooner or later–but only one team can be the “winner” at the end of the day. Losing a tight game can sometimes be even more disheartening for a team than getting totally blown out of the water is. Losing is always frustrating, but when a player feels like they did their best and still came up a little short it can be an even harder pill to swallow.

If your youth athlete gives it their all and still doesn’t win here are a few tips to help them cope with the disappointment:

1.  Don’t dismiss their disappointment.

Yes, this is a game, not life or death. Above all else youth sports should be fun for those playing. But it’s okay to be disappointed even when you lose a game. Trying to dismiss the game and their feelings by saying “Oh it’s no big deal.,” or “Don’t be so upset, it’s just a game,” actually undermines how your youth athlete feels. If your child played hard and their team came up a few runs/points/goals short they are allowed to be disappointed.

2. Remind your player that losing doesn’t erase their hard work.

Keep reminding your player that even if they lost they played their best and that’s all that really matters in the end. As legendary coach John Wooden said, ” “Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.” It’s okay to be upset but losing doesn’t erase all their hard work. Former Olympic skier Edie Thys Morgan said;

“ … then one day, I didn’t win. And I kept not winning, like it was my new job, until it felt my world had crumbled. I had three close friends who resided solidly in my rear-view mirror during my young days of untrammeled fabulousness. All three of them scooted past me and made their ways onto the U.S. Ski Team while I ground my gears. They were teaching me the lesson I had taught them long ago: that sooner or later you’ll get your butt kicked, so you’d better know how to deal with it. I did not appreciate the lesson.”

Every athlete is going to lose sooner or later, no matter how good, talented, or how much hard work they put in. But just because you lost that doesn’t mean you aren’t good, talented, or your hard work counts for nothing.

3.  Don’t hassle them about every little thing that went wrong.

After a loss you may want to analyze every pass, every throw, every swing to figure out what “went wrong” that resulted in that loss. Hundreds of college athletes were asked to think back: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?” Their overwhelming response: “The ride home from games with my parents.”

Those same college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: “I love to watch you play.”

Give your youth athlete some time to recoup from their disappointment before you start over-analyzing every play of the game. Let them know you are proud of them no matter what the final score is, that your love and approval isn’t tied to the outcome of the game. At the end of the day, most kids just want their parents to be proud of them. And if you can keep your focus on that you can help your child get through their disappointment.