Win The Game…Or Else!

Dear Mamas,

A friend of my eight-year-old son was at our house the other day. He told us that before his last soccer tournament, his parents told him that if he didn’t win he’d have to do the dishes for a week. And they were NOT kidding. I almost lost my lunch! My husband and I immediately talked about the fact that it’s not about winning, it’s about trying your best and having fun. That’s all fine and good but how do I explain this “win or be punished” attitude to my son since he has always been told it’s not about winning? He clearly doesn’t understand and was upset. Ick!

Dear Soccer Mama,

I share your sadness and disgust. My heart goes out to that little boy and all the others who have to deal with that kind of pressure. Unfortunately this “winning is everything” attitude that you had front row seats to is rampant these days. It not only puts tremendous pressure on kids to excel at all costs, it also gives them the message that their parents’ love and respect is conditional on what they can achieve.

If they can’t produce an “A” on their test, or a win at the game, they are cooked. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they tried their best, it’s all about the result. I’ve seen these children and typically they they are very anxious and suffer from low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. It’s really so sad, and so unnecessary!

It sounds like you, on the other hand, have the right attitude about all of this and have communicated it to your son. Congratulations on that! Your little guy is lucky to have parents who understand that kids who play sports should have parents cheering on the sidelines, not throwing out threats on the way to the game.

It’s probably best to look at this experience as an opportunity to reinforce your own values and to help your child understand that not every family is the same. You can ask him what he thinks about what was said and how he feels about it. And then you can explain that some parents just don’t understand that youth sports should be for fun and that it must be hard for kids who feel they always have to win. Remind him that nobody wins all the time. We all win some and lose some but the key is to do our best and to learn how to feel comfortable with both.




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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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