D. competed in karate tournament today. He was very excited beforehand, especially since he won his first gold in sparring last time around, and he was sure he will be victorious again. He did well on his forms, but ended up forth (no medal). He won first two fights and lost the third (fourth again, no medal). He was a bit upset, especially because he was unfairly judged (we saw fouls that were not called, we saw points taken away when they shouldn’t have been, the usual happenings of a judged sport). He did recover his spirits a little when he learned that many of his friends failed to score important victories as well. But he was a bit gloomy for the rest of the day and wondered how did it happen, that he didn’t even get a single medal. And it got me thinking, am I raising a child that knows how to lose so it benefits him?
Losing is an important learning moment, it might stimulate one to do better next time, it might teach us that we don’t always get what we want even when we got what it takes, it might teach us not to give up, it teaches us humility.
I read some articles on how extreme competitiveness destroys the true enjoyment of a sport or game and it got me wondering too. How do we see success? Can we turn the loss into a teaching moment?
First, I had to ask myself and D. what is it that we want from this particular sport? What is the role of competition in this?
The answers were obvious: to learn to protect yourself, to learn discipline and self-control, and “to make friends ” was D.’s answer. Competition doesn’t matter for the first three because the first one is unpredictable and for the second and third you are competing against yourself. The fourth doesn’t need competition to happen.
Competition is merely a small part of the journey, it doesn’t define you at all, nor does it define your competence since learning process is ongoing.
Second, I asked D. and myself how do we feel when we lose– for both of us “disappointed” was the answer. It’s a valid feeling. Now, why are we disappointed? Do our expectations need an adjustment? D. wanted a medal. Is it all that he wanted- a trophy? Would he be happier if they gave him a “consolation medal”? He would. This got me thinking again about excessive rewards that were given out on previous events. D. got a sports bag as a token of participation, he is happy he did, but he wanted a medal too. Not as a mark of his excellence, but just to have one.
Things to ponder further: Do I, as a parent and an educator encourage excessive praise and meaningless rewards? Do I condition my child to receive a golden star even for a minimal effort? How? Rewards are a constant in our activities outside of home- he gets extra praise if he doesn’t forget his music, he gets a golden star for participating in class- for things that should be a given. Dojo is one place where it doesn’t happen. I’ve seen excessive rewarding mentioned in many parenting books (especially those comparing US parenting culture with other countries) as a big problem. How do we find a balance between fostering sense of self-worth and making sure our children aren’t confused about their true skill? How we prevent greed for things that have no meaning aside from being a souvenir of an event?
Third: What does it mean to be the best at what you do? Does it mean beating your opponent every single time? Does it require outside praise? Which recognition has more merit? If your teacher tells you you did a good job, but you don’t get the medal, does the praise still stands? Especially if a teacher is not known for distributing praise freely? Do you automatically stop being good, just because your day was not very lucky?
I watched an absolutely brilliant Indian movie a few years back, it is called 3 idiots, and it immediately came to mind when I started thinking about success vs. excellence. I absolutely recommend it to everyone, it is a indeed a must-see, it pops up in search results as a full movie uploaded on youtube, and I’m sure it’s on Netflix too. D. is perhaps to young to some of the jokes there, but I need to re-watch it.
Fourth: In light of being unfairly judged- is life always fair? It may be a difficult question with a difficult answer for a child, but D. is 9, and fairy tale that his life currently is might get some darker twists sooner or later. Truth is- life isn’t fair most of the time. Immediate gratification doesn’t always happen. We don’t get something because we really really want it all the time. D. knows it and sighs “like that Millenium Falcon Lego set”. But he has so many Lego already and he knows it. And he also has many medals up on his wall. He is saving money to get that set one day. He is saving strength and is determined to train harder to get that win next time. Realizing that you’ve been blessed already is a good thing. Realizing that you have to make an extra effort to get something you want is a strong motivator.
People also can be unkind. We can remember how it made us feel and try to avoid behaving like this in a future. Is it ok to be happy about winning? Yes! Is it ok to automatically assume it will last? No. Realizing that even a sense of superiority is transitory is another valuable lesson. Being humble about your winnings sometimes means less embarrassment if you fail. (And I’m not saying this about D. in particular now, because he’s not the one to gloat. Just something to remember for the future.) Another thing to learn is to be genuinely happy for a friend.
Fifth: Regret. Inevitable part of disappointment. The first question I ask D. when he is done with something important, be it a competition or a concert- did you do your best? If the answer is “yes” than he did what he could and he shouldn’t have regrets. That is where he is right now. It is up to him to push himself forward when he’s ready. But he has to answer honestly. It is much easier to live an honest life in general, but it is crucial to be honest with yourself. D. looked beautiful today doing forms. He felt great doing them. He felt good about his two fights. He was fighting fairly. He has no regrets about that.
Sixth: Learning from your mistakes. To do it one has to realize these mistakes first. Honestly tell yourself there may have been mistakes, gather a courage and look at sparring video, test score, whatever applies to the situation. Find your mistakes, acknowledge them and try not to make them again. Or realize again, that there might have been factors outside of your control (like a situation on a tournament before last where the position of judges did not allow them to see competitors from all the angles and it affected the scoring), swim in your disappointment for a bit, let it out of your system and move on.
Seventh: I, as a mother have to ask myself- what did I do to help my child feel good about this competition? Did I hype up his hopes unnecessarily? Did I show my anxious face? Did I cheer too loudly and distract him at a crucial moment? Did I not show up on the sidelines because I am too nervous to look at my child being hit? I know where I failed this time- we were too busy running around during the past two weeks , we over-scheduled our activities, so his mental condition just wasn’t that great. He was in an excellent form physically, but paying attention to his mental condition is just as important. This is the thing I can do for him.
That is all for now. So many things to consider (or overthink?) . Tomorrow is a new day and we will try to make the best out of it.