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Dealing with losing


For children, martial arts rank testing and competition is usually a positive and rewarding experience, but sometimes the final results may be frustrating, disappointing, and difficult to deal with. To help them better cope with losing, as instructors and parents, we must give our children the skills to help them understand and deal with loss.

Dealing with loss is a developmental process

These skills are developmental in nature, changing with maturation and experience. In young children, these skills are not well developed. To children under the age of 8, the purpose of the martial arts should be to have fun, learn basic skills, and develop a sense of fair play and sportsmanship. However, as children become older, the outcome of a testing or competition becomes increasingly important. Unlike team sports where the blame for losing is shared among team members, in the martial arts, a competitor must face the loss alone with his or her ego exposed. There is no one to share the responsibility for the loss, except perhaps to blame officials or the opponents.

Ways to help children deal with losing

Parents may do things to help ease the pain felt by a child who loses a match or fails a rank testing. As a part of early childhood training, parents should teach the concepts and ideals of sportsmanship to their young children. While instructors and coaches strive to enforce the principles of sportsmanship, the basics of these principles should be established before the child ever steps into the school. It is the parents' responsibility to be a role model for the development of a sense of fair play, acceptance of losing, being a good winner, and persevering when things get tough.

This is important since the fundamentals of sportsmanship are applicable to most daily actions and interactions. Before a child is allowed to compete, the child must have a clear understanding of the behavioral expectations involved in a competition, whether the child wins or loses. Therefore, the first step toward helping a child deal with losing is to ensure that the child understands the fundamentals of sportsmanship and can conform to appropriate behavioral expectations.

Immediately following a loss, there are a few things that parents may do to help. First, and most important, avoid yelling at your child or at officials. Yelling never helps the child feel better and in most cases, only makes things worse. If there was a legitimate problem with officials, follow established protest procedures in a calm, rational manner, otherwise, the child may begin to feel that it is never all right to lose, or that if you do lose, you must find someone else to blame and then yell at them. It is okay to give your child a hug. Your child may have tears, but tears are a legitimate expression of emotion. If the child is otherwise exhibiting appropriate behavior, the child should not be made ashamed of crying. Allow the child a little breathing room and quiet time after a loss. It is not necessary to try to analyze the situation immediately.

After the child has had a little downtime, ask if he or she would like to talk about it. The parent should reinforce that winning and losing are all part of the competition process, there are no guarantees that if we compete we will win. Redirect the child from focusing on things that he or she cannot control to things that the child may control. Emphasize that the child should focus instead on preparing for the next competition or testing, such as by training more and working on developing better techniques. Avoid over-analysis of the match, particularly right after the match is over. “Attacking” type questions, such as “Why didn’t you block?” or “Why didn’t you kick faster?” should be avoided. It is okay to talk about the match with your child but avoid details at this time. Your child’s coach or instructor will have ample opportunity to review necessary details with your child later when the child returns to training.

Frequently, it is necessary to provide your child with constructive criticism, particularly after a loss. However, it is best to temper constructive criticism with positive reinforcement. Criticism becomes more meaningful to the child if it is "sandwiched” between positive feedback. For instance, provide a positive comment about what the child did well, point out the areas that need improvement, and then follow-up with another positive comment. This helps prevent the child from being resentful of parental attempts to be corrective on the heels of defeat.

After a loss, some children may begin to experience a loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, especially if a child has lost to a particular opponent on a number of occasions. Parents may explain that children grow and develop at different rates and develop their martial arts skills at different levels during the growth process. It is up to the child to ultimately determine how much effort he or she is willing to put forth to overcome whatever obstacles to achieving success. Above all, parents should make clear that all that is expected is that the child does his or her best. This is all that any parent should expect since it is all any child can give.

The outcome of the match or promotion cannot be controlled, but the amount of effort that one puts into preparing for the event may be controlled. Encourage your child to enjoy the competitive aspect of the martial arts, win or lose. If your child does not enjoy it, he or she will eventually turn away from it.

Daring to compete means daring to dream. Help keep your child’s dream alive by supporting him or her throughout all their competitive efforts. Celebrate the victories, and deal with the losses constructively.

  • Dunlap, D. (2002). Helping Your Child to Deal with Losing. Taekwondo Today. (Fall 2002).

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