Dealing with failure – how sport can help

We would all love life to be perfect for our children and for them to succeed in everything they do. Sadly, though, that’s never going to happen and one of the most important aspects of parenting is helping them learn to accept and deal with failure.

It can be hard, especially today – although we love the idea of encouraging young children to have a go at everything and come to understand that it’s trying their best that counts, the ‘everyone’s a winner’ ethos can mean that some don’t face that many obstacles or disappointments. If they play sport at any level, though, they have to learn to lose, to fail and to cope with rejection on a regular basis – to us, it’s one of the huge positives of encouraging children to find a sport they love.

We’re the opposite of sporty but yet some weird freak of nature means that we both have sporty kids who have played at reasonably high levels (don’t you think being a parent makes you find genetics so interesting?!). So, of course, there’s been a lot of coping with rejection as well as some huge highs. Looking back, and talking to other parents (thank you to everyone who’s contributed via Instagram @equippthem), here are our top tips:

  • Help them find a sport they absolutely love, rather than one that they’re good at and likely to achieve success in (of course, if it’s one and the same, that’s fantastic). They will get pleasure from it for the whole of their life.
  • Not getting the outcome they were hoping for is a chance to learn. Talk them through what they’ve achieved so far and help them plan how they will improve and grow as a result of this experience. Going through periods of failure is an essential part of the learning process.
 “People react to criticism in different ways, and my way is definitely to come out fighting”. David Beckham
  • Remind them before key matches to stay positive and cheer on their team-mates whatever happens. Blaming others for a team’s loss in the heat of the moment is always a source of regret later.
  • Talk to your children about how happy the other person/team is when they win and help them learn to celebrate for them, knowing their time will come one day.

  • Remind them that what seems like an especially humiliating failure now usually means a great story. My husband once took a day off work to attend an athletics meet, to proudly catch one of my daughter’s hurdles races on camera – and she mistimed it and fell over almost every one. It was tough at the time, but it’s one of her favourites to share with new friends now; we can all cry laughing even thinking about it.
  • We listened to a presentation from an ex-footballer once, who told the story of how he was rejected by the club of his dreams but decided to persevere and went on to have a successful career. He said that not being selected is “just one person’s opinion at the time” and is never a reason to give up.  Probably the most useful piece of sporting advice we’ve ever heard.
  • Sometimes, it’s as hard for parents to witness failure and rejection as it is for children to experience it. It’s so important to stay calm and positive, especially once they’re teenagers. There’s some great advice on this here:
 “Sport has taught me honesty, discipline, work rate and humility.” J

We’re convinced that the agonies of waiting for race times to be posted, team sheets and squad lists to come out, retention/release emails to drop into the inbox or competition results to be announced have made our teens stronger, more resilient and definitely more positive people.  There’s no better way to learn that life has ups and downs but that neither of them will last for ever.

Louise & Anna x

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