The power of winning and losing!
Everyone loves a winner. The world is full of sayings and proverbs about being on top, and number one. Our sport stars are praised for their success both on and off the field, and people flock to hear our business moguls and buy their books to find out how they too can excel! They dominate the news, and people hang on their every step, both the good and the bad. We can learn a lot from the winners. And those that repeatedly exceed everyone’s expectations, take things to new heights, do the impossible and become legends!
But what about the ones that don’t win? Do they just go by the wayside? Some do. There are some people that compete, but in the end, they come up short. What about them? I would argue that these are the people we need to focus on if we want to be successful. The one’s that didn’t quite cut it, but kept coming, are the ones that will be dominant in the end. However, there is an unfortunate movement going on with this generation. It is one of “we don’t have winners, everyone gets a trophy and we don’t keep score.” I would argue that not only are we not helping our kids, we are actually preventing them from becoming great.
I want to start this off by saying, I was one of you. When my kids were younger, I thought I knew how to raise them. I wasn’t going to make the same “mistakes” my parents did. When my generation grew up, we were told what we did wrong, such as making a bad throw from second base, or playing a wrong note during a piano concert, or making a wrong turn in our ballet recital. When we went in on parent’s night to meet with our teachers, our parents would listen and then look at us and question US on our performance.
Our children were going to be different. They were going to be supported, and nurtured and we were going to make sure they had every opportunity and everything they ever wanted. We would question the teachers at the school and blame them for not teaching effectively. I was even vocal about it, telling my parents that I knew what to do, and I would never tell my child they weren’t the best at something (sorry mom and dad, and yes you were right again.) I was fortunate (and so were my kids) that at some point I realized the wisdom of what my parents (and as I have found out since, many parents of their generation) did for us. In hindsight, my mother being a teacher with advanced degrees in education and child psychology could have saved me a lot of aggravation and tearful days down the road.
As I have since learned, we don’t learn as much from our successes, as we learn from our failures. There is more to be learned in losing than in winning. Currently there is a big push in society where we do not want our children to experience losing. Everyone who competes gets a trophy, and no matter what the competition entails. Competition is frowned upon. We have Little League and Soccer games where kids don’t strike out and we don’t keep score. We go out of our way to make sure that our kids don’t feel bad because they aren’t as good as someone else. But is this healthy in the long run? Also, in case you didn’t know parents, the kids are keeping score, and they know exactly how everyone did, whether we post it on the scoreboard or not.
Learning to win for kids is essential. It builds their confidence, teaches them that hard work pays off and creates opportunities for success in other areas of their life. It also teaches them about teamwork, how to be coached and the thrill of victory. When done properly, it should also teach them how to be a good winner. They should learn to show respect for the other side or for the competitor that came up short on that day. They should acknowledge the competition and look for opportunities where they can do better next time. Learning to be a gracious winner can only happen when you win at something.
Taking it a step further, the legends in sports, business and entertainment, all have one thing in common, they failed repeatedly before they were “overnight sensations!” The Beatles spent months playing 16 hour shows in clubs in Europe before they invaded the United States and changed music forever. Michael Jordan credits NOT making his high school team as the biggest reason he was able to have the success he achieved, becoming one of the most legendary sports figures in history. When we are taught to look at failure the right way, we see it not as an end, but as a need for change. We either need to change our approach, change our strategy or change ourselves. And everyone knows the story of Thomas Edison and the light bulb. When asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he stated that he didn’t fail 1,000 time, it was just the creating the light bulb had 1,000 steps. It was his ability to look at what didn’t work and adapt that made him one of the greatest inventors of all time.
But what about losing? I think we can learn even more from losing. When we win, we celebrate, when we lose we contemplate. If you don’t feel the pain of losing something you’re trying to do, what makes you work harder to improve? Kids need to learn that in life, everyone does not win every time, and there are bigger rewards as the level of competition get’s higher! How many people do you know that had amazing abilities that they never did anything with because they were never pushed. At one time, it was stated that it was impossible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Throughout history people tried and failed to break this mark. But in 1954, Roger Bannister refused to believe it was impossible and on May 6th, achieved it. But more incredible, is that within 6 months, 8 more people broke that mark, and now it is estimated that over 1,400 people have run sub 4 minute miles, and it is the standard of middle distance runners.
Not convinced? Try this. Find a company that is hiring, go in with your resume and interview. There is a chance you will get it, but what if you don’t. What if someone who is more qualified, or just judged to be a better fit also interviews. Do you still show up for work with the company the next week? Or walk into your boss tomorrow and tell them that you want the promotion that was just posted or a raise, even though you know you are not truly qualified. Think you’ll get it? How you respond in these situations as an adult have been shaped by how you learned to react from your past successes and failures. If you never learned how to lose, you are in for a rude awakening. This could be part of the reason that we have kids acting out violently when they don’t get their way, or lose a video game tournament, or something that can seem very insignificant to an adult.
When I was young, I was going in front of a board from my Boy Scout Troop. I was approaching Eagle Scout and was going through my review board for my Star Badge. I was a pretty sharp kid and I knew that I had done all the work on my badges and had completed all the tasks. But when I got in front of the group, they did something that was somewhat painful at the time. They ripped me to shreds! I was devasted. Not only did I not get moved on to my next rank, but I was sent back to review all of what I had been working on. Plus everyone knew that I was going in front of the board. I would be so embarrassed at the next meeting when everyone found out “I failed.” When I went out to my car, I was really upset, and my mother asked me what happened, and then said to stay in the car. She left and went inside to talk to the board. I was so excited. I thought she was going to straighten out everything so I could get my badge and continue on. She came back into the car without saying a word and away we went.
The next week, my Scout Master who was a great mentor, pulled me aside and explained what I had been missing during my presentation. I knew what I had done, but I wasn’t communicating that to the board. He urged me to keep at it, go through my time in the scouts and come up with a way to show the board that I had earned what I was looking for. I spent the next three weeks reviewing everything I had done, creating displays and visuals, including copies of what I had done for different badges, what I had learned along the way. When I went back in front of the board the next month, it was a very different experience. The board was amazed at what I had accomplished, and the board voted unanimously to promote me to my next rank. My subsequent review boards were very similar, as I had learned what they were looking for and how to be successful.
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered, that my mother didn’t storm into that meeting room and give them a piece of her mind, making sure that things would be easier for me next time. Instead she asked what had happened and then implored them to continue to push me. She felt that everything had come easy to me, and I needed someone to push me and hold me accountable to a higher standard…and they did.
Looking back, this encounter would have a tremendous impact on my life and career when I was older. As I came up through the ranks, my performance was amplified by my ability to organize and communicate effectively with people. This helped hone my leader ship skills and as I rose to executive level management, was critical in my success. All because I failed at something when I was sixteen!
When kids compete, they learn a lot more than just how to play the game. They learn how to analyze their performance, how to identify areas that they can improve and how to work together as a team. They learn about building relationships with their peers, coaches and neighbors. They learn that losing is not the end, but a chance to launch a new beginning. They learn sportsmanship, how to come back from challenge and then when they win, they learn the thrill of success. These skills are critical, not only in sports, but in all areas of their lives. Think of how many successful athletes, have gone on to outstanding success in business, or have changed from one sport to another with great success.
Lot’s of people have goals (or as we’ll discuss later, wishes,) but successful people take it a few steps further. The people that make it to the top of whatever they are working on, measure their progress toward their goals and then make adjustments along the way. To do this effectively, you need to look honestly at your performance and work on the areas you need to improve in, or even better to capitalize on the areas where you already excel. The lesson we teach our kids should not be win or lose, it should be win or learn, because if you can learn one thing from losing, you can create a plan, go to work and come out ahead. And as John Wooden used to say, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day who had the most points on the board, but if you tried your best, and you know you gave it your all, you are a winner.