I’ve failed too many times to count. There have been the little failures like raffles I didn't win some raffle or contest, incomplete crosswords, diets that fell off the wagon and incomplete New Year’s resolutions. There have been bigger failures like not getting the big part in the school play, not making teams in high schools, not getting into first choice schools and getting passed over for jobs I really wanted. Then there were BIG FAILURES, failed relationships (no, not my current one ), pregnancies, friendships and a myriad of career moves that didn't measure up. And you know what? They all sucked. Each and every one of them (all right, the raffle I got over quickly). I remember them all, and the tears, feelings of disappointment and embarrassment, and the painful blows to my confidence and self-esteem that came with each “failure”.
Ouch. Failures hurt. Loosing hurts. Disappointments hurt. So when it comes to our children, of course our natural instinct is to want to protect them from that pain. Helicopter parenting, constant intervention and advocacy, all with the good intentions of keeping our children sheltered from the hard knocks. Who wouldn’t? We do it all the time. The problem, is that in doing so I think we are also depriving them. Depriving them of the small life experiences that help them deal with the big ones when they come along. And they will come along. So when I read this past weekend about Sport Canada and its change to follow a “long term athlete development” approach over competition, I couldn’t help thinking about the long term affect of such a philosophy.
According to a Globe and Mail article on Saturday April 28th, “The case for killing the competition”, John Allemang reports that all of the country’s 56 national sports bodies, under the direction of Sport Canada, are crafting long-term athlete development (LTAD) programs that value having fun and honing skills over hoisting trophies. In highly detailed documents that reflect a best-practices approach to achieving sports excellence, organizations such as the Canadian Soccer Association are spelling out a mandate for training young athletes in less openly competitive, more age-appropriate ways.
My position is neither “anti-fun” sports nor thinking that inclusive participation is not important, or that there shouldn’t be more skill based sports for those kids that are just interested in playing, nothing more. I believe there is actually a place for ALL of these philosophies to exist along side each other. For instance house leagues and “select” leagues do just that. How about adding more skill-based programs in addition to the competitive games? I am not competitive at all (and neither are my children) but we all love sports so would welcome many of these additional programs. However, I leave that all to people far more qualified than me to design the options. But there can still be competition.
However, my position is on the importance of learning how to lose. Learning to play with winners and losers is not a bad thing. Whatever kind of loss that is. See, while I openly admitted all of my failures, what I didn’t say is how each one of them changed me as a person. After many years and tears, I realized that the most important thing I learned from all my failures was that I could fail and still be o.k. And each time I learned that I became less afraid of failure and more apt to try, to take a chance. That is where all the real rewards are. How many new experiences, great successes, and amazing people would I not have met if I hadn’t just tried?
Removing the competitive nature of our children’s sports programs is just one more small way our children miss out in the learning they need to function in a world that is competitive and I worry about that a lot.
When a child falls and scraps a knee, there is usually a sting, maybe some blood, some hugs, a purple band-aid, and then the child gets up and starts running again. See, we would never tell our kids to stop running because you could fall and scrape your knee. Our role as parents is to teach them to take care of themselves, take a moment, feel they hurt, get up, start walking again and they will be o.k. As much that may hurts us, we owe them that lesson.