Stop Telling Your Kids It's OK to Lose

“Good job Troy,” my son’s wrestling teammate offered his fist for a bump. My youngest son was in tears, sitting against the wall, having lost his match by a resounding 15-2 score.

“It wasn’t a good job, I just got dominated!!” he yelled angrily, refusing to bump fists.

I had come down from the stands when I saw how distraught my 12-year-old son was. He had been matched up with a more experienced wrestler who was simply faster, stronger and more skilled. This was my son’s first year wrestling, and while he produced a solid winning record, days like this happened – when his lack of experience resulted in some brutal losses.

Troy Waggener headed into a wrestling meet - 2016.

Troy Waggener headed into a wrestling meet - 2016.

“What’s important is that you had fun and gave it your all,” another parent said to him as I approached the group.

“Does it look like he’s having fun?” I asked the parent. “Don’t say that shit to my kid. What’s important is winning. What’s important is that he learn from this and work harder. My son hates losing – that’s why he’s upset.”

“Well I guess we know who the real problem is here,” the parent smirked.

I refrained from telling him that his “just go have fun” attitude was probably the reason my son will be a state champion and his kid never will be, but I just smiled back and said, “Worry about raising your own son and keep your “losing can be fun too” attitude away from mine.”

You want your kids to have fun regardless of any other factors? Take them to a park. You want your kids to learn the value of winning? Get them into competitive sports.

You want your kids to have fun regardless of any other factors? Take them to a park. You want your kids to learn the value of winning? Get them into competitive sports.

When I perform poorly, whether it be in the gym or on the competition floor – the last thing I want is for someone to congratulate me on a job well done. I didn’t earn that praise, I know it’s fake. It’s you trying to make me feel better. Here’s the thing – I don’t want to feel better. I want to feel like shit when I perform poorly. I am a competitor. I expect the best from myself and when I know I didn’t perform up to my abilities – feeling like shit is what I deserve and what I want. I want to feel that sickening frustration where literally nothing but time will make it go away. That undying sickness in your stomach where you just want to break something. For those that don’t have that fire – maybe you can high-five a teammate and just move on. I can’t and I was proud of the fact my son couldn’t either. He’s a winner. He hates losing so much – it drives him to workout at 5 in the morning, to lift weights and drill with the high school team. To push himself so hard with that goal of a championship always in front of him and the fear of that sick feeling when he loses, chasing him.

Coddling your children or your athletes does nothing for them. Teaching them that it’s ok to lose doesn’t prepare them for life, their next match or their next competition. When I hear parents say things like “the important thing is to have fun” – I immediately wonder why the hell they ever enrolled them in competitive sports. Go take your kid to the fucking park if you want him to have fun regardless of any other factors.

We live in an era of participation trophies – where this “just have fun” attitude is stuffed down our throats. When I offered a different opinion, I was viewed as “the problem.” No pal, you and everyone like you is the problem. Your child will grow up and enter the workforce one day – and be like all the other kids I used to have to manage – the employees who want to be lauded for simply doing their jobs. The workers who have to be constantly praised in order to “feel good” about themselves. Teaching your kids that losing can be fun too, is doing a disservice to your own children.

My brothers and I grew up in a state of constant competition, with others, with each other.

My brothers and I grew up in a state of constant competition, with others, with each other.

I played sports growing up and so did most of my brothers. As an adult I still seek out competition anywhere I can find out. I can never once remember my parents telling me losing could be fun. After my little league team was crushed by 8 runs in a playoff game, I remember riding home with my dad. He didn't tell me that as long as I had fun it was a good day. All he said on the ride home was, "well that sucked." That's all I wanted to hear - because it did.

When I see my son crying after a loss – it hurts my heart. It makes me feel sick to my stomach to see him that way – it also fills me with an incredible sense of pride. After my interaction with the other parent that day, I wrapped my arms around my son and let him cry into my shirt. I didn’t say anything because I knew nothing would make the frustration of losing go away in that moment. When he was done, I told him I loved him – and I told him to get his mind right for his next match. I told him to remember how he felt in this moment – and how badly he didn’t want to feel this way again. He went out and pinned his next opponent after running the score to 12-0.

Your kids should know that win or lose, you love them and will always support them – support doesn’t mean celebrating their losses. It means making sure that from every loss, comes an opportunity to learn – to learn how to fucking win.