The Facts of Life – Winning & Losing

My 7 yr-old nephew began playing Junior AFL (Australian Football League) in the Under 9s team this year.  He had been playing Auskick for the previous 2 years and loved every moment of his Sunday training. He was very excited and we were all very proud.  My sister is their team manager despite never having been involved in anything of the sort before.

There is nothing more exhilarating than watching a bunch of kids running around a field, whatever the sport, learning some skills and discipline while having a great time.  At my nephew’s first ever training session, I watched his interaction with other kids he had never met before.  Ever the sociable character that he is, he was soon getting to know everyone’s names and soon having a kick with them.  When they played a mini game, there were times when he was so busy talking to the other kids standing at the goal square with him that he barely noticed when the ball was coming his way.

When he played his first ever JAFL game earlier this year, I also went along to cheer him on and make sure it was all captured on video. His team won and he was honoured as Player of the Match by his coach (his reward was a certificate and a $3 voucher to spend at the canteen!).  There was no prouder moment!  The atmosphere was great – there was no sign of the “soccer parents” behaviour you hear about and the parents on our team were even cheering for the other team (mostly because they were being very soundly beaten from the first siren).

For several rounds, my nephew’s team remained undefeated.  One of my sister’s responsibilities, as the Team Manager, was to record the scores – how many goals/behinds, who scored them, etc.  But then JAFL declared that they were not to officially register any more scores for the rest of the year.  This means there is no ladder, no premiership flag to play for and no club song to be sung at the end of the game when the team wins.  When I asked my sister why this was the case, she said JAFL had decided that there should be no winners or losers.  My reaction was…um…what the?!

Whilst some would say SPORT is all about winning, I would go further than that and say that LIFE is a constant series of wins and losses.  Whether it be winning best & fairest or MVP in your chosen sport, getting the best grades in your class or being first in line for the new iPhone, for every person who comes first or gets the highest score, there are countless others who must come second.

In my opinion, these life lessons should start as early as possible – all children should be encouraged to strive to do their best.  It doesn’t have to be THE best as long as they are trying THEIR best – there is a big difference.  I remember as a kid, whenever my sister (who is a couple of years older than I am) and I played games, she used to beat me and I used to throw a hissy fit – I was pretty famous for those.  In contrast, as much as my nephew always declared himself the winner or #1 even if he wasn’t, he always wanted to be fair and would say that we were EQUAL winners.  He would just try to make sure he did win the next time.  We don’t ever LET him win – he has to earn it – but we do try to teach him HOW to win.

The current generation of kids and young people (the Gen Ys) have been called “cotton wool kids”.  Every bump and scrape has parents running after them with Band-Aids. Schools have banned cartwheels in playgrounds. Parks have removed merry-go-rounds – I loved those as a kid!  Society has gone overboard with political correctness.

Instead of stopping kids from enjoying the fruits of their labour with a winning chant or singing the club song, the JAFL, and all junior sports in general, should teach kids to take victory proudly but not condescendingly and to accept defeat graciously and accept the challenge to do better next time.  If we don’t teach kids the facts of life early, our society will end up with a generation of bullies, self-medicating depressives and people who grow up to accept mediocrity.

It is not always about the destination but the journey to get there.  Winning is not the only thing, but knowing how to get there is what makes us all better people.

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