“Losing is Good” says the Washington Post

Losing ain’t so bad. This is from an article I read last year, and I’m thinking about it now as I prepare to coach my children’s baseball teams this spring. From the Washington Post:

So is losing all the time really good for children? And their parents?

It can be. Experts agree that losing at sports, no matter how unending, can allow children to learn from failure. Losing all the time builds philosophy, camaraderie, sportsmanship and the idea of athletics as a series of incremental victories. The team may falter, but teammates improve, moment by moment.

Well if losing is cool, consider me Miles Davis! I’ve been on many losing teams. I’ve been the cause of many losing teams (I’m not good at sports).2621966_orig

Many studies of teams argue for establishing a “winning culture” or breaking out of losing streaks early, so as not to establish a downward spiral of bad morale and general…suckiness? Im-morale-ity? What’s the word right word? In any case, most team research says: winning is good for players. It makes them winners!

On the other hand, this piece in WaPo is arguing that losing is good for development. It’s part of the same argument that says facing challenges is good for learning resilience.

So is it better for me to lose when I’m young, so I can learn resilience? Or is it better for me to win, so I learn “how to win”? Are those things different?

I wonder if it’s all about how you frame success, and who you want to be successful. Sports team research would generally define success as winning, in part because it’s hard to measure things like “did we have fun?” and “did everyone learn how to throw a baseball correctly?” And most studies will generally focus on a team at the expense of their opponent.

But if you look at youth sports, winning is a zero sum game: only one team can win a particular game or season. Youth sports leagues are obviously not designed to serve the interest of only one team, so their mission CANNOT be about winning. It has to be about development, because every player on every team can do that. Now, I’m not saying that youth sports leagues focus on development because they have to, but that they really can’t make winning the focus even if wanted to.

So, back to losing. Is losing good for you? I think it’s good to know what it means to lose and how it feels to lose. And of course, how to learn from losing and how to be a gracious loser. Things we can all work on. In that regard, losing is just as useful as winning in youth sports. In your life, you will lose and you will win. What matters is what you do afterwards.

On a related note, here’s one of my SCU students, Jenna Roering, who is a college soccer player, writing about how to bounce back from a loss.