Don't Let Them Win
The number one truth about parenting is that there is no rulebook, no handy guide, no methodology that is guaranteed to work. All we as parents have are techniques (or the rejection) thereof that form our ability to raise children. And though there are no hard and fast rules of parenting, there are absolute truths which are undeniable. The way you parent impacts your children, for the bad and the good.
It has been debated how the concept of “winning” morphs a child's mind. This concept partly evolves from the child's view that "everyone is a winner" to an adults view of the reality that "there are winners and losers." This concept begins begin to germinate early in children during play (or the lack thereof) with their parents. Interaction with parents or family members during play forms some of the earliest views on winning and losing.
Through watching my kids play, I have concluded that on a basic child level we begin our journey of human interaction as equals. The hierarchy of society begins horizontally and slowly, as life’s trials and tribulations morph us and our mindsets, we begin to categorize the fellow humans in our universe in a vertical manner using terms like better or worse, winner and loser. As parents, however, we must teach our kids how to do both, how to win and how to lose. Play is a massive opportunity for parents to teach certain truths that will undoubtedly shape their adult minds.
As a parent, you want to reward hard work and proper technique, but not with victory. Victory (concerning winning and losing) is not an entitlement because you worked hard. Arguably, the more magnificent internal triumph is that you worked hard, which needs to be enough.
Many go through life never learning this fact and as a coach, I see this manifest itself all the time in the gym. Too often, we rely on the binary of winning and losing to assign worth. People need others to lose for them to win.
My children always expect that when they engage in a sport, the people they are playing against are working as hard as they can. Because of that fact I will not influence their earliest experiences of sport with dad "letting them win." As a parent, I will go out of my way to reward good technique or a clever move.
I began this experiment with the kid's game Connect Four and after a week of continuous play, my six-year-old son and I are legitimate co-competitors, both getting equal enjoyment out of beating the other person. Why? Because I don't let him win.
When it comes to bouts of athleticism, be it football, baseball, soccer or basketball, the coaching side of me kicks in and our games focus on instruction, not winning and losing. There are no winners and losers in catch or batting practice. I want to develop my children athletically while focusing on the process that I have come to love and value. By promoting progress over winning, they are often the most prepared on the field, then the victory they get will be the victory they earn.