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June 4, 2010

The agony of defeat - what are we teaching our kids?

When are winners actually losers? No, not when somebody wins a "Have Dinner With Nicholas Cage" contest. It's when you play soccer in Ottawa. At least some of the time.

Yes, according to the CBC (and probably many other outlets, but that's the article I'm using), an Ottawa youth soccer league has decided that if a team wins by more than 5 goals, they are declared the losers.

Is this evidence of the "self esteem" movement run amok? Is it a bad thing for a child to experience losing, even badly, and to discover that sometimes life just happens to suck and you come out on the wrong end of the stick? Why are people so eager to coddle losers at the expense of the winners?

We're already dumbing down achievement by giving awards to everybody who plays the game anyway, so I guess this is the next step. Instead of saying "everybody's a winner!" we're now saying "if you win too easily, you're a loser!" Is that a good message to send to our kids? Is that getting them ready for the real world? Will they expect that when some cutthroat businessman squeezes them out of a deal by deploying his ruthless business instincts, that they're actually going to get the deal themselves because the other guy beat them too badly?

Sadly, it might be coming down to that.

According to Kevin Cappon, a 17-year-old player who scored the 6-1 goal to put his team ahead by that magical 5-goal margin:

"I couldn't really believe it, but I wasn't going to doubt the referee," he told CBC's Ottawa Morning Monday.

His team spent the next 20 minutes just passing the ball and keeping it from their opponents, he recalled.

"I felt like I was mocking them sort of when I really didn't want to … I didn't feel good doing it, and I don't think they felt good receiving it."

That's right. They toyed with the other team because they couldn't afford to score that 7th goal. That had to make the other team feel good.

But I loved this part:

"Cale said the rule has been on the books for years to encourage coaches to start thinking about strategies to even out the game when the score reaches a three or four goal spread.

For example, the league recommends that players on the winning team can:

Play short-handed.
Kick with their weaker foot.
Play positions that they have less experience playing."

This is ridiculous! So a team is up by 5 goals. They start kicking with their left feet (or right feet, if they usually use their left). Two results can happen:

1) They still kick the shit out of the other team by 5 goals, thus showing the other team that they can be beaten handily even by players intentionally playing badly. Wow that team must *really* suck.

2) The other team scores a goal or two, and the first team turns on the jets again until they have that 5-goal lead back. Then they go back to intentionally sucking.

What lesson does this teach our kids?

When I was in Little League baseball, there was a 10-run rule. When a team went up by 10 runs, the game was called. I think it had to be after a certain number of innings, but I can't remember. That's not a bad thing, because it ends the slaughter, but the team that was winning ACTUALLY WINS. That's a very notable and important difference.

This Ottawa thing? It's bullshit, pure and simple.

Kids have to learn how to lose. They have to learn how to lose badly. If we shelter our kids from this vital lesson, they're going to get a rude awakening when they finally reach the real world.

You know the old saying: "It's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game." To me, that just means that as long as you play hard, you can take pride in the fact that you did your best.

You still lost, though. Don't forget that. Learn from it. And try to win next time.

(h/t: Tuesday night's Red Eye episode, where they talked about this story)


  1. I've always taught my kids that while it's great and FUN to win, that sometimes (and it's okay to) lose once in a while. I don't want them to be SOOO competitive, that they feel that it is their right to win at EVERYTHING.

    People lose in many different circumstances. Those that were taught that 'shit happens' dust off and move on, in hopes it is better next time.

    Those, that don't, well, then they aren't as mature as you think that they are.

  2. Excellent comment!

    And I see you ignored my "Cage-bait", though I'm glad you responded anyway. LOL

    There's nothing wrong with losing. It's how you lose that enhances your character.

  3. No, I didn't ignore it. I forgot to add....

    Why are ya beefin' on the Cage? Is it 'Despise Nic Cage Month'? lol

  4. Nah, he just makes it too easy.

    That, and I wanted to see if you were paying attention...

  5. While I'm not in favor of the rule, I would think it wise for the coach of the winning side to either mix up the players positions or to restrict his players on how they can score.

    I know of a coach of a club team here that, if his team got ahead by a certain number of goals, his team (for example) could only score with their head. That would force his team to work on something during the game (in this case, on crossing) while still keeping the other team engaged in the game and not play "keep away." If more coaches would challenge their players within the game while not embarrassing the other team, then we wouldn't need these so-called rules.

  6. I can certainly agree with that, Steve. It's the same way in pro sports, like when the 3rd and 4th lines get power play time when it's a blow-out.

    It's a good opportunity to work on skills and all that other stuff.

    I just don't think it should be:

    1) League-mandated

    2) if you don't do it, it's considered a loss instead of a win

    It's just good sportsmanship to ease off the gas pedal a little bit. But sportsmanship should not be enforced (ok, within reason)

  7. Bob SchlumpbergerJune 5, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    I agree with Steve. Once a team is winning by a big margin, the coach should put in second stringers or have the players work on specific skills. It's just good sportsmanship. However, the winning team should NOT be declared the losers. This is not teaching our children anything useful. It's the sports equivalent of Socialism. Just because one team is so much better than another (or one team is just having a really good/bad game). Children need to learn how to win graciously and how to handle losing.

    I do think that good sportsmanship should be enforced by the league - at least to some extent. How often have we heard in the news how unsportsman-like some coaches/parents (some coaches ARE the parents) have been. Starting fights, yelling obscenities, belittling the players, etc.. Something needs to be done, but giving a win to the losing team is not the answer.

    (stepping down off my soapbox)

  8. Hey Bob!

    Good to see you around these parts.

    That's kind of what I was getting at with my "within reason" addition above. I certainly don't think it should be enforced this way.

    Feel free to get up on your soapbox again if you feel the urge. :)


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