While there have always been examples of poor sportsmanship and losing teams not handling defeat well, those stories were viewed as outliers and not representative of how individuals/teams generally handle losing a fairly officiated game. Today, however, we are witnessing a disturbing sportsmanship trend occurring that is, ironically, not unique to sports. Increasingly more people today are simply not accepting defeat in life, meaning that when their person/position/team loses or is wrong, they refuse to accept reality and the consequences that accompany defeat. This is unfortunate, as an important common denominator to sport competition — as well as civil human interaction — is to acknowledge when we are wrong, accept defeat when it occurs, and congratulate the victor with sincere appreciation for their efforts.
Something isn’t “fake” because you don’t like a particular outcome, and problems don’t just go away because you have simply grown tired of them. The other team didn’t cheat in order to beat you, nor is it appropriate to belittle, degrade, insult, or threaten others because they were proven correct about a situation or issue. Kids especially need to be reminded that one of the best things about sport competition is fair play, and the genuine appreciation for the opponent after a hard fought game (regardless of outcome). What kids don’t need to see more of is whining, disrespect, and baseless claims about the other team.
Accepting defeat on any given day is what is needed in order to continue along the pursuit of excellence and future development and success. When we wallow in excuses, we delay implementing new strategies, and our odds for future improvement diminish. Accepting when we lose and/or are wrong also allows for positive self-growth by means of verbal and non-verbal communication, conflict resolution, stress coping, and learning the importance of resilience. Of course, none of these things occur when we instead choose to scream, shout, and blame others rather than accept losing a game or being wrong.
Better modeling needed for kids
Kids watch how we carry ourselves in life, including how we respond to adversity. Until recently, kids regularly witnessed adults show respect toward one another, agree to peacefully disagree regarding issues with differing views, and shake hands with opponents after losing a fair competition. Today, however, kids see the exact opposite — disrespect toward each other by means of verbal insults and physical assaults; assertions of cheating and lying when in fact there are no examples of cheating and lying occurring; public shaming through anonymous social media posts; and failure to congratulate opponents, even when it is clear the other person/team has won fair-and-square. Kids now see that if you don’t get your way, your response should be to fight, complain, kick, and scream until you do. Are these the qualities we want to model for kids?
Sportsmanship is a quality that goes well beyond a sports field, and is at the crux of fair competition between any group of people. When we come up short, rather than immediately assert that the other team somehow cheated, try to instead turn your attention to the opponent and offer your congratulations. Instead of carrying bitterness and resentment, turn your energy toward learning where you fell short and how you can improve for the future. Nobody is saying you have to like losing, but how we carry ourselves in moments of distress is what defines our character — and also serves as powerful examples for kids.