I don't know about you, but I have been glued to the US Presidential Election. And even now that the result has been called I am still mildly obsessed by the soap opera that is “Trump's Next Move”. He seems completely unable to concede defeat and is trying every trick in the book to alter the result, including blaming voter fraud, rigged results and the Democrats “stealing” it from him.
“What has this got to do with sport?”, I hear you say. Well, I always maintain, as a sporting parent, that the best way to approach sport with your young athlete is to see it as a way to develop great life skills whilst also having a good time. If your child is enjoying their engagement with sport and at the same time they are learning great teamwork, employing goal setting, developing respect for opponents and officials, feeling gratitude for the privilege of playing etc. etc. then it's a win win situation. It doesn't really matter if they make it to the pinnacle of their sport, the aim is that they fulfil their potential and become a great person in the process. It's a shame that Trump hasn't had that experience and learnt the important life skill of being magnanimous in defeat.
As a young sports person losing is one of the most difficult things to cope with. As a parent, with our super protective instincts, we can sometimes get our own response wrong in an effort to shield our children from it, and in doing so encourage our children to start employing Trump's methods.
It's tempting to take the heat off our own child and blame the opposition, saying they didn't play fair, it might make us all feel better for a short while. But it's important to acknowledge that the opposition is basically our child in a different colour outfit. Our child and that opposition had the same goals, they wanted to do their best and be the winner, therefore to undermine the opposition is to undermine the game itself. We may also be tempted to blame officials and organisers to deflect from our child's defeat. I have been to more sporting events that I can remember and heard the cry from the sidelines “Come on Ref! You can't be serious”, or some iteration of it. Again, it makes us all feel superficially better to to blame someone else for the result of the game. But does this encourage our child to honestly reflect on their abilities, their skill level, their preparation or their focus on the day? All of which will ultimately make them a better sports person, and a better person.
So, as a sporting parent, what's our toolbox for dealing with this kind of situation, to avoid nurturing a mini Trump?
Don't make winning the be all and end all - It's great to win matches or races, but the reality is that you can't win 'em all AND the most successful elite athletes are those that experienced performance setbacks in their early years – they learn from losing.
Respect the opposition – If they have beaten your child or your child's team today then they deserve respect and praise
Support the process – Sometimes decisions by officials or referees might seem to go against your child, but this is all part of the process of sport. Officials are often unpaid volunteers with a difficult job on their hands and sport just wouldn't happen without them. Be grateful for their time and accept that sometimes it'll go against you and sometimes it'll go your way.
Help develop the magnanimous vocabulary of losing with your child – Having a script to deal with the situation of losing is often half the battle when you are a teen athlete.
“On the day the other team were better”,
“We didn't play as well as we hoped, we can go away and work on that”,
“They were quicker than us today, we haven't developed that level of speed yet”,
“I'm gutted, but it just wasn't my day”,
“Some positives from the day's competition, but also lots to go away and improve on”,
“We tried a few new things today which haven't quite come off, but we'd rather keep developing than stay stagnant”.