The Question We've Got to Stop Asking Kids: 'Did You Win?!'

kids playing soccer

When I signed my kid up for soccer at 4 years old, I did it with full knowledge that she was joining a league that gives every kid a turn and every kid a trophy. And despite having been raised in the '80s, long before kids were taught that they're all unique, special rainbows, I was fine with that. They're just kids. Shouldn't they learn that the idea is to have fun, not be the "best"?

I think that. Most of the other parents in our "everyone's equal" AYSO league think that. But it's not the message society is sending our kids.

Take a child in a sports uniform anywhere but the field (or diamond), and the first words out of an adult's mouth are, "Did you win?"

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My daughter has been asked this in the grocery store, in restaurants, and at gas stations. The questions generally come from strangers, but not always.

Either way, they set my teeth on edge. How does one teach a child, "it doesn't matter who wins or loses as long as you all have fun," in a society obsessed with winning?

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How does one teach a child there is nothing "wrong" with "losing" a game so long as you tried your hardest if people always want to know about the winner? Because that's a secondary message you send a child when you ask if they won their game: that it's not OK to lose.

I don't care if my daughter wins a game. Maybe it's because I'm not nearly as dedicated to sports as my husband, who has not only coached (or assistant coached) our daughter's team the last five years running, but is also a blogger for an English "football" team.

Or maybe it's because I have no delusions that my child is the next Mia Hamm or Brandi Chastain. She enjoys soccer, certainly, and asks every summer to attend soccer camp to enhance her skills, but I signed her up for the sport more because I wanted her to be forced to actually share with other kids (she was only 4 her first year, after all), to try to kick-start a life-long love of exercise, and to give her some socialization time with other children her age.

It's worked. She loves soccer the way a 9-year-old should. She has fun kicking a ball around the yard, and she doesn't get stressed out when the ball comes into her team's goal more times than it does the other team's.

She rolls with the punches -- at least on the soccer field (what happens over homework is another matter).

The fact is, even if she had the sort of talent that could take her to the Olympics, I would still want her to be a child for as long as possible. Hers is a generation of kids being forced to grow up even faster than any before it, and I want her to hold on as long as possible to fun and frippery, because the big world out here is scary.

And young children, children her age, don't "need" to win. They "need" to do their best and enjoy themselves.

So, isn't winning fun? Don't kids love to get the higher score?

Sure they do. But when researchers sat down and rated what actually makes sports enjoyable for kids, they found that "winning" ranked 48th on kids' lists: which means there were 47 OTHER things that ranked higher, including good coaching and trying hard. And of late there has been a lot of pushback from both the medical and coaching communities about how hard parents are pushing kids -- and the drawbacks.

It's these sort of parents I'm up against ... and the sort of folks who make comments in the supermarket.

I understand that these adults are showing an interest in a little girl, and I'm sure folks will tell me that I should be grateful for that. But I'm not asking them to ignore my child. I'm asking them to consider what it is they're asking before they ask it.

There are plenty of questions that come to mind -- not related to winning:

Who did you play today?

What position do you play?

DID YOU HAVE FUN TODAY?

All questions that are innocent, harmless, get a child talking, and yet steer clear of the sticky topic. They're questions, too, that focus less on the outcome of the game and more on the game itself.

Because that's what we parents are hoping our kids are learning about: the intricacies of playing a game ... and having fun while doing it.

Do people ask your little athlete "did you win?" How do you react?

 

Image via Jeanne Sager

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