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Winning and Losing

By: Martin Bernstein

I never really thought about how my attitude towards losing could help me coach parents, but I often find myself reflecting on lessons learned from playing sports. Growing up, I played sports year-round, mostly ice hockey. I learned a lot about life and had a ton of fun through sports growing up - bonding with teammates, learning how to work together, understanding the hard work it required to improve, and realizing that I have the ability to push myself more than I think. I am certainly grateful for all of these skills that I picked up playing.

I hated to lose. Nothing made me angrier than losing. I would see athletes on TV lose their temper when they’d lose a game or a call would go against them, and I assumed that was the proper way to express your frustrations of losing. I cost myself - and my parents, sorry mom - plenty of money breaking $150 hockey sticks out of anger, as did many teammates and professionals.

It really took until I was away from the game for me to fully understand how to lose, though. The best part about losing is really the opportunity to improve. Losing shows us where we need to get better. It’s never about the ref or what the other team does, we need to focus on what we can do to be better next time. One of my favorite phrases to tell athletes is, “control the controllables.” Very little in the game is actually within our control, we can only control our effort and what we do - not the ref, not the other team, us.

Did we put in an effort we can be proud with? Is hockey still fun? Did we learn something today? Great, let’s work at it and get better in practice. After all, it’s way more fun when we win.

The intensity of competition has the ability to bring out the best in us, it’s why I would exercise and focus on conditioning - I certainly didn’t enjoy running sprints. Competition teaches us how to be dedicated and work at something consistently to improve so that we can perform at our best in the moment. In working with troubled teens and parents I like to remind them that the process and work we do towards growth is the part that is most important to focus on, not so much the outcome or results of our work.

However, we cannot let ourselves be fooled, competition will humble us if we are not careful. No matter how great we think we are, the possibility of losing is always out there - nobody is immune to suffering loss, in fact we would never improve if we won all the time.

That is where the difference lies in winning and losing gracefully. Competition is not about the outcome and the results, but the work we put in to get there. Kids are always watching us, and they will learn how to handle loss gracefully from our own actions. Losing is an opportunity to improve, and we cannot forget that.

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