My high school basketball coach was once asked by a school staff member if he thought our team would have a good season. My coach responded, "I will let you know in 30 years." The staff member had a perplexed look on his face so coach elaborated. He explained that only if his players turn out to be “good” adults, husbands, fathers, and community leaders will he be able to call the season a success. Although quite a few years have passed since high school, I have not forgotten my coach’s words. Now, as a coach myself to kids of all ages, I seem to be thinking about his words more than ever before.
Youth sports today is volatile. What is happening? Children across the world are playing sports, oftentimes in highly competitive environments. Like older athletes, young athletes want to play well and they want to win. Well, many kids (and adults too) have not yet learned that they can’t and won’t win all the time. Even the best of the best lose. Face to face with a loss, it can be very difficult for a young athlete to cope if he or she is not encouraged and supported to see this “loss” in a healthy context.
When a healthy outlook is cultivated sports does what it is supposed to do and becomes much more than a game; it becomes a powerful vehicle to teach kids (and their parents) key life lessons. With the right outlook, the field, court, track, pool, backyard, park or wherever serves as a proven, effective, safe, and fun place for kids to learn skills and lessons that will serve them long after the final buzzer or pitch.
Here are 10 ways parents and coaches can channel the pain of losing a game into a long lasting life lesson.
1. Moving On. Losing is tough and oftentimes we are tempted to dwell and stay stuck in the past. Sports teaches us to look ahead. The challenge is to learn from the mistakes that caused the loss, make adjustments, and then focus on preparing for the next game. Same thing in life. Allowing past mistakes to drag us down is futile. We need to turn mistakes and failures into points of inspiration and move forward towards the next day.
2. Confidence. How do we encourage players to continue to believe in themselves, especially in a situation where a player misses the game winning shot or something similar? The key is to redefine success. Instead of focusing on the result, kids should be encouraged to focus on preparation, execution, sportsmanship, and most importantly, effort. By these benchmarks, an athlete who left it all on the court and had good sportsmanship is a winner, regardless of the score.
3. Resilience. Getting knocked down in life is a sure thing. The question is—will you get back up and how long will it take? Losing a game is the perfect opportunity to teach kids effective and healthy ways to recover, regroup and grow from a setback.
4. Communication. Losing a game is an opportunity to teach kids to cope with uncomfortable feelings in a healthy and meaningful way. Players should be encouraged and should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts on the game. As long as dialogue is for the purpose of improving and conducted in a respectful manner then players should be allowed to put their feelings on the table. This teaches kids that uncomfortable feelings are a part of life, and when things get heated we can use our words in a meaningful way to bring about positive progress.
5. Compliment. Kids are never too young to learn that commending someone on their effort or an achievement, giving someone words of encouragement, or digging deep to find something positive to say can go a long way and accomplish untold good, especially after a hard loss.
6. Dedication. Players learn that even when times are tough, like after a loss, it is more important than ever to stay committed to the team, the coach, the workout, the goal. It is often during hard times when we create the very bonds and cultivate the skills we will need to achieve success later on.
7. Patience. In today’s society there are not many opportunities to learn that patience truly is a virtue. That is why losing can be so beneficial to young players. They should be encouraged to understand that achieving a goal takes time, hard work, time, more hard work, and sometimes some more time. After investing in patience, a player will have a newfound appreciation and respect for the sweetness of a hard won win.
8. Respect. Sports in general should teach players to respect their coaches, teammates, opponents, referees,the rules of the game and the fans, while conveying the importance of respecting property like the balls, hoops and locker rooms. Being respectful when all is going well is easier; learning to stay respectful after a frustrating call or a tough setback is harder, but absolutely crucial for living a healthy and happy life.
9. Perspective. It may have been the most important game of the season, or even of a lifetime. However, it is not a “total loss.” Teach players to look for the positive in a loss—be it a growing opportunity, a chance to make changes, an opportunity to be grateful, or even an opportunity to refine one’s character and practice losing with grace, there is always something positive to be found.
10. Have Fun. That’s the whole point of a game, right? So, too, in life—we only live once—we should teach our kids to enjoy the journey and make the most of their precious time.
Tamir Goodman (born January 18, 1982), dubbed by Sports Illustrated magazine as the "Jewish Jordan", is an American-born Israeli retired Orthodox Jewish basketball player. After playing basketball for the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore in 11th grade, he was ranked 25th-best high school player in the country, with an average of 35.4 points per game. He accepted a scholarship from Towson University. Goodman then moved to Israel and signed a 3-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2002, and was loaned to Giv'at Shmuel for the 2002–03 season, and then played for Elitzur Kiryat Ata in the 2003–04 season, and went back to Giva't Shmuel for the 2005–06 season. Since retiring from playing in 2009, Tamir has established his reputation as a sought-after motivational speaker, coach, and educator. He is also the founder and director of the non-profit Coolanu Israel, creator and CEO of Sport Strings Tzitzit, partner in the Omri Casspi Basketball Camps, author of The Jewish Jordan's Triple Threat, and the inventor of the Zone190 training aid. Tamir is a former soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces, holds a B.A. in communications and lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.
Turning a Loss into a Win