Winning by Losing

I read a great piece in the New York Times a few weeks back by Ashley Merryman, co-author of the book Nurtureshock with Po Bronson. It was titled, Losing is Good for You. It was a well timed read after having recently been part of two very charged little league softball and baseball games.

One game featured a win-at-all-cost softball coach (not ours) who taught his girls to run on every dropped, overthrown or underthrown ball. The philosophy was, “If the ball does not get back to the pitcher, RUN!” In full disclosure, the rules state this is allowable. Also in full disclosure, I have never seen a team actually develop a base running philosophy around this. These are 4th and 5th grade girls who are still learning the game. Shouldn’t that be the focus. Our girls handled it well. Us dad’s were less than awed by this approach. Winning at any cost is not the spirit of little league. Winning or losing without learning has little to no value (The dad in me was excited that our girls won the game, despite the efforts of the opposing coach. Does that make me a bad person? Please don’t answer that).

On a recent Sunday, our 3rd grade boys baseball team was in a battle of a game with another team. Our team had not lost a game in almost two years. While this is nice and the boys love that, many of our parents were secretly looking for a loss so the boys would have to learn to deal with that. As the coach of the team I could not agree more. There are great lessons in learning from a loss. To quote the great Herm Edwards, “We play to win the game”, but some humble pie is good for you, especially in 3rd grade.

We were losing and you could see the mood on the bench was one of sadness. The boys had not lost a game yet and it was very close to happening. My son was sulking on the bench in between innings. “Why the long face, buddy?” I asked. “We are losing'” was the response. That set me off. While I cannot remember my exact words, I did say something to the effect that “I don’t care if we lose buddy…they are playing better than us right now. They deserve to win. If we want to win we have to play better than the other team.” I am still not sure if I said the right thing or not but I know the everyone-gets-a-trophy perspective plays a big part of that mindset in kids (mine included). Teaching kids to give their best effort and accept the results is easier said than done.

Well, the final inning came and we lost our first game in two years. There were tears as we ended the season, but a great season it was. I was proud of the group for their growth this year. The loss, however, is not a loss. There is more learning in a loss than a win.That is the silver lining in this. That is a growth mindset.

Two games on a Sunday. Two sets of circumstances. One great lesson, with two subtopics. Learning is winning! Win at all costs does have a cost (and not a good one in my opinion). Losing will happen, but it teaches you more than winning. “Dad, if we made a few more plays yesterday we might have been able to win.” That was music to my ears.

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