“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport —

The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat!

The human drama of athletic competition —

This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

— Jim McKay


We all know “that guy.” That guy (or gal) who takes losing personally and lets everyone know how they feel, the one who lets a loss determine the course of their day or weekend. The “agony of defeat” is real, and agony it is, when your team leaves it all on the field and still come up short.

The great thing about youth sports is that sometimes your team wins the game and your child gets to celebrate the joy of a job well done. The better thing about youth sports is that sometimes your team loses — by one point or even by 20 — and your child has the opportunity to learn the valuable lesson of humility.

Psalm 37:23-24 puts it like this: “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Losing is hard, but losing does not make you a loser. Hitting the reset button on this topic for both parents and kids can go a long way toward a healthy perspective on sportsmanship.  Like the famed college football coach Pop Warner once said, “The greatest game that a coach can win is the one that develops boys into men.” In the end, isn’t that what we all want for all of our kids? We want them to be able to face the many triumphs and disappointments coming their way in life, and not have either scenario be one from which they are unrecoverable. 

For our kids to learn how to be good losers, we must first set that example as parents. How do you respond when your team loses in a rivalry game? Do you bash the officials or the players on the other team? Do you moan about how unfairly things played out on the field? You cannot expect higher standards from your children than you are exhibiting yourself. Satan loves a sore loser, but the Lord esteems those who persevere under trials.

Our children need to be trained in the art of accepting defeat graciously, just like they are trained to block, tackle, and throw. For only a select few will this skill come naturally. We all benefit from training. Here are a few tips on raising children to accept defeat graciously:

  1. Don’t look for someone to blame.  It’s tempting to find someone — anyone — to pin the blame on when things don’t go our way. Satan loves it when we do this, because he wants to create division anywhere he can. But the truth of the matter is, it may not be the ref’s fault or the coach’s fault that your team came up short. Sometimes, the other team just plays better. Teach your kids to stomach the loss gracefully, and move on.
  2. Congratulate the winner. Losing can be tough. Occasionally there are tears on the field. That’s okay — but the losers still need to congratulate the winners. And at the end of the day? They’re just kids, it’s just a game, and there is likely a snack waiting for them afterwards to ease the pain.   
  3. Teach them to learn from their mistakes. Losing is part of life, and it’s the best way for players to get better. It shows the coaches where the team needs improvement, and it shows the kids where they can do things differently next time. Recognizing where you messed up is a huge step in the growth of a player, and of a person.

The next time you feel the agony of defeat, take a minute to examine your reaction. Are you a good loser, or are you that guy or gal whose reaction everyone remembers long after the score of the game has been forgotten? Whichever one you are, remember that your young athlete is watching, and taking their cues from you.


TWEETABLE: “The greatest game that a coach can win is the one that develops boys into men.” Pop Warner (Click to Tweet)

QUESTION: How do you handle it when your team loses?