It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game (for some reason, I can't find the originator of that quote... probably a loser). We have been told this little gem since we were tiny. And, though, I do believe this statement has a lot of merit... I really think it only applies when you are a kid. That's not to say that being a good sport is not important when you get older. It's just to say that sometimes in life it's just is important to "win" as it is to play well.
If you don't believe my above statement to be true, let's go do some interviews with my Dallas Cowboys (who got stomped in the playoffs a few weekends ago) or my Tennessee Titans (who didn't even make the playoffs). I'm sure you will never hear: "Well... It really doesn't matter what the score was. What was important is that we were great sports when we got stomped." That person would be off the team that evening (as well as be drug tested before being allowed back into the league). But I would only assume they would take it in stride... being a good sport and all.
Now... I say all of that to ask this question. When is it OK to start transitioning your kids from gracious losers to even MORE gracious winners? There's nothing wrong with playing to win. I do it all of the time. And I'm proud of it! If I'm playing against you in something, and the goal is to win, then I plan to beat you. Now, I'm not one of those that must win at all costs. But if I'm playing against you, you'd better bring it!
When we have family night at the house there is usually some game going on. We are either playing the Wii (Sports, Fit, Mario Party) or playing Monopoly (Classic, Deluxe, Planet Earth) or Uno (uh... just Uno). Just to be honest here... I usually win. Why? Because I'm the only one playing that sits at the table with the idea that WINNING is the first goal (having fun comes in at a close second). I think this is part of the male psyche or something.
When I'm playing Monopoly I don't just want Boardwalk and Park Place. I want those little scrubby purple places too (Baltic and Mediterranean). And if I could, I would buy the jail and charge people to visit AND to stay there (no free rides here). Speaking of free... FREE PARKING???? What is that? I need that spot for a parking garage for all of the hotels I own. And I hide my money too. You don't need to know how much money I have. You just need to make sure you have enough to pay me when you land on my railroads. I want to own the trains AND the tracks! You see my point. And if I don't win, I just spent 2 hours donating to someone else's happy dance.
Now, my wife is better at this stuff than me. So I usually let her talk to kids about competition. There are a lot of times I want to tell my oldest that it is OK to strive to be the best at gymnastics. But it would probably come out something like, "Do you even know what a vault is? I know you can do better than that!" I want to tell my 4-year old that she should really focus on getting better at Wii Golf so she has a chance to beat me next time. That's a much better approach than telling her, "In YO face!!!" every time I get a birdie (not that I would EVER do ANYTHING like that. She's 4). And the 1-year old... We don't compete against each other in many things but if we did... I'm sure there are a million things I would have to hold back from saying as well (even though it wouldn't hurt to give her a baby "in yo face" every now and then).
I do think, however, it is time I start teaching my kids that winning IS important as well. I want to be a parent that explains to my daughters that it's ok to be a happy, humble loser but 10 times better to be a happy, humble winner. I want to be a proud papa when my daughters are giving their valedictory address at their top universities because they understood the value of winning. Whether we like it or not, life is a competition. Somebody wins and somebody loses. And if you are content with being content then life will be fine. But if you are going to play against me in the game of life... you'd better bring it!
Next post will be about my life-changing game against my 4-year old playing the Wii Bowling (she brought it).