Sports and other extracurricular activities are a common conversation topic among parents of school age children. Inevitably, these discussions pivot toward our anxieties about performance, achievement and advancement. We furrow our brows and agonize over how best to help little Johnny or Maddie be “winners” in all of their endeavors. Someone once cut to the chase during one of these discussions with a simple summation of reality–a mantra that most likely applies to people of all ages who participate in most all activities–“Everyone eventually gets sick of losing, and when they do, they’ll either improve or quit.”
If this is true, and I believe it is, maybe we need only encourage our kids, our friends and ourselves to try new things, and then stand back and see what happens. Success feels good and is its own natural motivator. We need not push those experiencing success but instead provide support and direction.
Failure, on the other hand, doesn’t feel good and we may be tempted to either shelter our kids (and ourselves) from all failure or unreasonably push for achievement so as to minimize exposure to failure. But remember, “Everyone eventually gets sick of losing, and when they do, they’ll either improve [which requires a combination of talent, practice and determination] or they’ll quit.”
I’m not saying it’s always okay to quit difficult activities out of frustration. No one need give up easily on things we’re not necessarily good at. But we need to have perspective on what it takes to become good at various things and be an encourager through the challenges associated with reaching higher levels of achievement. People will sometimes still choose the exit. And in most instances–yes, I’m going to say it–quitting or at least dialing back the intensity is okay. Try a different activity. Move on.
Or we could also choose to emphasis something other than winning. For example, I took up tennis a few years ago. I stunk up the court with no natural talent or knowledge of the game. So I took lessons and carved out time to practice until last year I became courageous enough to join a league.
I was tempted to bail on competitive tennis this year. Instead, I shifted gears. I joined a doubles team instead of singles team. Wins came more frequently for a variety of reasons: experience, coaching, having a partner and competing at a slightly lower level than the previous season.
Our team, the Radiant Orchids, (because we look amazing in our orchid colored gear) recently came within a few sets of winning a championship match. But we lost and that stinks, but only a little. Because afterward, our team captain reminded us of why we play, “We play to be social, to get exercise, to have fun, to improve our skills and to win.”
Yes, losing still stinks and we DO play to win. But winning is last on the list of reasons we participate and we rock at the more important things. I am blessed to have been a part of a group of amazing, fun, competitive and inspiring women. I almost quit playing competitive tennis because I was sick of losing. But with encouragement, practice and time, I’ve improved… at more than just a game.