Learning to Lose

I hate to lose. I’ve never been a great loser. Can I help my kids be better losers than I was?

If I look at my own attitude during my competitive sports years, I probably wouldn’t be the best role model for my own kids. I may have smashed a few tennis rackets during my tenure on the court (when my mother forced me to buy my own, I slowed down that habit a bit). I think I had a tendency to quickly say to myself “YOU SUCK” rather than other more helpful self-talk alternatives (I’m still working on that on and off the court).

I am imperfect and aware of some of the things I need to work on, especially now that I need to provide a good example to my boys as they enter their own sports/competitions and just good ol’ life challenges. Plus, I am becoming very aware of the not-so-gracious attitudes and behaviors of players and parents alike that seem to permeate some of the youth sports in some areas.

My oldest son has become more involved in competitive sports the past year and I’m trying my hardest to let this be fun learning experiences, not stressful competitions. However, starting out as a wrestling mom this winter was tough. First of all, that’s an intense sport. I felt frustrated when Andrew lost 95% of his wrestling matches. I felt like he didn’t learn (or utilize) any moves. I felt sad that he just got beat over and over again in such a tough individual sport. But

This season, we tried baseball. His team is full of players just like him: 7-8 year old beginners. The coach is laid back and has little to no help from parents to help instruct. The parents all seem less than eager to have multiple practices per week, so we have very few practices except for pre-game warm-ups. We definitely present a different picture than some of the teams we play with 2-4 assistant coaches, multiple practices, field coaching, etc.

He is only 7 and I want him to love sports, not burn out at 12. I don’t want to be overly into the competitive aspect of sports at this age, but it’s been a painful season to watch from time-to-time when my kid’s team loses multiple games by the run-rule and they can barely make a defensive play.Andrew does pretty well, but a week or so ago, he said “mommy, I don’t want to play anymore, we just lose all the time and it’s boring.”

Just last night, we played a team that we actually beat a few weeks ago somehow. Last night, nothing worked at all for us. We got run-ruled every inning and I’m not sure our team made a single defensive catch/play all night. The parents tried their hardest to not just look as defeated and exhausted as we felt. Some of us even grumbled under our breath “wow, this is depressing.” It got harder and harder to cheer every play that almost got an out. But when the boys came off the field, they taught us a little lesson. They wanted to run around the bases. My own son, who told me just earlier this week that he didn’t want to play baseball anymore begged me the entire ride home to work on his batting with him even though it was dark and rain clouds were moving in.

They weren’t discouraged, they were already looking towards the next opportunity to play again. They are already okay with losing.

Today, I was thinking of a few inspiring quotes from some of my favorite icons to help us through the next few years of sports in our house and came up with a few:

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I’ve had amazing coaches over the years, many of whom have taught me about myself and what kind of player I wanted to be. Not to discount what any of them taught me, but there is one who is jumping out in my mind right now as maybe having the biggest impact that I may not have felt until years later, maybe even after he passed on: Jim Verdieck, University of Redlands coaching legend.

In my summers at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, working with Dennis Van der Meer as a player from the age of 12 and then later as a PTR instructor myself at the tennis academy in VA and Hilton Head, SC, I spent a considerable amount time with Jim. We bonded over bad knees and committed to working together on knee strengthening every day we could.
I truly admired Jim and am not sure I ever told him how much I appreciated him, his personality, his cool, his wisdom and just his friendship. I may be hacking his exact words, but he said something to me about winning when I was in my early teens. (Here’s another article about Jim)

He said “you can’t control how hard your opponents have worked, you can’t control how many hours they’ve worked on their forehand winners, topspin serve or conditioning for long matches. But you can control how hard you train. You can adjust on the court when you are up against that opponent. You can control your own perserverence, your own efforts and your own attitude.”

What he said stuck with me and carries over into every. single. thing. You can’t control so much, but you can control ATTITUDE and EFFORT.

So, I’m focusing on those 2 things, for me and for my boys. Hopefully, as I’m teaching myself to be a better loser, they will learn to be gracious in losing and (hopefully) winning.

2 thoughts on “Learning to Lose

  1. Very nice, Holly. And this translates into so much else in life. Like, everything, really ,,, just as you said. I love these little reminders to behave well in the real world. My words of the day tomorrow at work will be ATTITUDE and EFFORT.


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