Sore Losers and Genetics
We live in a society that stresses the importance of winning, so it would be disingenuous to say winning is not important. My son, who is 11 years old has never took losing well. At times, he could be a sore loser. I can say with 100% confidence that these behaviors were not instilled by us as parents. This article discusses the nature vs. nurture argument in youth sports.
Genetics Vs. Environment
It is my opinion that an athlete’s competitive nature is more of a genetic trait that has the potential to be amplified by his/her environment. Case in point, my daughter grew up in the same environment as my son and is mostly indifferent to winning or losing. When speaking of environment, it may or may not be driven by parents. It can also be impacted by peers, siblings, or a fascination with team sports at a young age.
A Brief History of a Sore Loser
I was not a very good sport as a kid, this was a result of my need to win, which came from within. There were times when my brothers and best friends would not want to play with me because of my hyper-competitiveness. Now my son is playing competitive team sports and has developed similar tendencies.
In my son, I noticed hyper-competitive traits as early as 3 years-old, playing whiffle-ball and watching games with him. By age 5 or 6, at times he was unbearable to watch a sporting event with. My wife and I quickly learned that this behavior was not to be ignored, so if he exhibited negative behaviors like crying or yelling at the TV, we punished him by either not playing with him or turning his games off.
As he got older, he started competitive sports. He started playing travel baseball and competitive basketball at 7 years old. When things were not going his way, it was virtually impossible to reign him in emotionally. Poor Body language, mini-tantrums, and crying were all behaviors he would exhibit when losing. He could be a basket-case at times. Conversely, the passion for winning was always there and we wanted him to always keep that.
There is No Crying In Sports (Positive vs. Negative Emotions)
In all sports there are positive and negative emotions. The negative emotions, such as, sadness and self-loathing are NEVER productive during a game. There is no way to channel sadness into a positive outcome when competing. This emotion causes kids to quit competing and not deal with adversity properly. If you lose a tough one or you know you are playing your last game with the kids you love, cry away. Additionally, being even keeled can come across as having a lack of passion and is not the type of competitor that most coaches want. Most coaches and teammates want competitors who care when they win or lose!
The types of emotions I personally like to see are excitement, joy, passion, and controlled anger. That’s right anger! Just enough anger to fight through every rebound, an umps/referee’s bad call, every blocked shot, every hit, every out, every strikeout, or any other adversities during a game. Most people look at anger as a negative emotion. If anger is channeled properly it can be turned into passion and intensity. We have really preached this to my son, which has helped tremendously.
The Turning Point (Hopefully)
My son is 1000% better than he used to be, although he is still very much a work in progress and has his moments. We are constantly preaching that sports are about overcoming adversity and to not let the competition see your weaknesses. We have been extremely fortunate to have excellent baseball/basketball coaches that are able to effectively deal with his personality, emotions, and make him a more confident player.
We also have a policy his mom implemented on car rides home. She has him point out 3 things he did well and 3 things to improve upon. Another change I made personally was to hold off on any constructive criticism after games and to save them for another day. I will casually bring it up when we are practicing hitting, shooting around, or playing video games. It seems to work well for us.
Hyper-competitiveness is not a negative trait to have, if channeled properly. We want our kids to be passionate about what they are doing. The age-old argument is nature versus nurture. Obviously, it’s a combination of both, but I truly believe an athlete has a genetic predisposition that make him/her hyper-competitive or indifferent to sports outcomes. Teaching our kids to compete and channel their emotions is paramount for a successful athlete.