Lessons In Losing

Lessons in Losing

By Karen Finucan Clarkson

“Losing triggers strong emotional reactions, namely disappointment and frustration,” but it also sets the stage for incredible gains, says David R. McDuff, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and owner of MD Sports Performance in Ellicott City. “Parents need to appreciate the importance, from a learning point of view, of losing. The biggest lessons often come from a loss or series of losses.”

“Losing builds character more than winning does,” says Robert Price, a sports psychology consultant and owner of Elite Minds in North Potomac. “Society, however, doesn’t value failure or really understand the role losing plays in a child’s growth and development.”

Life is full of competition, whether it’s Chutes and Ladders in preschool or lacrosse in college, and being able to handle and learn from a loss is essential to eventual success. What is key, according to Price, is teaching children to identify those aspects of the competition they cannot control-the roll of the dice or the call of a referee-and then focus on those things within their reach.

“Getting out of the trap of winning and results-oriented play, which often stifle improvement, allows a child to focus on how he practices and plays,” says McDuff. And it often increases a child’s enjoyment of the game. By “focusing on winning and results, there’s always pressure. A child may come to dislike practice and competition even though he may love the sport.”

The Concept of Losing

Preschool is an ideal time to expose children to the concept of losing. “When we play a game with our kids, it’s not to win or lose but to teach them something-to count, to read, to take turns,” says Price. There will, however, be a winner. If the focus is on the process-you tell your child that “he has three pieces he’s in charge of and needs to make decisions about”-then “letting him win is OK,” Price says, especially if the parent is a gracious loser, modeling effective ways to deal with disappointment. “Sometimes it’s okay to beat your kid so that he knows what losing feels like and experiences it in the comfort of his own home. Better there for the first time than in public.”

Learning From a Loss

It is not until middle school, when a child is around 12 years old, that he is developmentally capable of learning from and improving as the result of a loss, agree McDuff and Price. “Losing forces a child and parent at all levels of competition to examine what it takes to play well and ultimately be successful as an individual or a team,” says McDuff.

“As a parent, try to get your kid to focus on the process and set goals he can actually attain while out there performing,” says Price. “The goal isn’t winning but improving; it should be measurable, attainable and realistic.”

He offers the example of a center on a basketball team. “He can set some simple goals – eight rebounds, two blocked shots and 12 passes. …Accomplishing these goals will help him individually and his team.”

Goal Setting

Goal setting also provides focus to the post-game conversation. Rather than sulking about losing, “he can talk about whether he was able to accomplish his goals-and if not, why,” says Price.

But hold off on that conversation for a bit, suggests McDuff. “Many children don’t like to talk much after a loss….But athletes, no matter what their age, appreciate a quiet hug or embrace from a parent.” The car ride home is a time for a child to decompress, not listen to a critical analysis of the game. “Wait. Be available. Your child will come to you after the emotions and disappointment subside a bit.”

Continuous Failure Can Be Demoralizing

While the occasional loss provides opportunities for improvement, continuous failure can be demoralizing. “These days there’s such early pressure to specialize in one sport and play at a high level,” says McDuff. “There’s a risk from pushing a child to too high a competitive level where they’re outmatched or get little or no playing time. I worry about burnout and the long-term effect on self-esteem.”

He tells the story of a high school senior preparing to play tennis in college. “I asked him what he was going to do over the summer. He said, ‘I guess I’ll play tennis, though I’d rather write and hang with my friends.’ I asked him to go back and look at videos and tell me when it was he lost his joy for playing.”

It was an eye opener, says McDuff. “‘At 10, 11, 12, 13, I was smiling when I competed,’ he told me. ‘But when I began travelling,’ he said, ‘I lost my smile.’”

Losing isn’t fun, and some children struggle with their emotions following a loss. A focus on process rather than results frees a child to be a good sport. “Good losers recognize that there are people or situations that are out of their control. They acknowledge that, and move on,” says Price. “By focusing on their goals-what they accomplished and what they could have done better-they often find it easier to congratulate someone on winning.”

The truth is, says Price, that society values winning. But, he notes, some of those winners credit losing with their success. “Michael Jordan has always talked about why it is important to fail, why he learned more through failing than winning.When he fell, he got back up. That’s a lesson any kid, even a 4-year-old, can understand.”

Jordan would concur. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed,” the NBA All-Star has been quoted as saying.

Karen Finucan Clarkson is a Bethesda writer and the mother of three boys, ages 14-22.

Robert Price

Robert W.H. Price

Owner and Ceo

Robert Price has received Master’s degrees from both University of Maryland in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sport Psychology and Johns Hopkins University in Clinical Community Counseling. Mr. Price also holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, where he majored in Psychology and Learning Behavior Disorders. He played college football at the University of Pittsburgh prior to transferring to Hampton University.

He also has received training in Mindfulness Meditation at the University of Miami under Dr. Amishi Jha and a Level III Master Resilience Trainer from University of Pennsylvania. He is also a certified therapist using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) certified by EMDRIA. He is a licensed clinical professional counselor in the state of Maryland and Georgia. Also a National Certified Counselor (NCC) granted by the National Board of Certified Counselors, Inc. Mr. Price is not a licensed psychologist.

Joshua Dunn

National Sales Director

Joshua Dunn is the creator and founder of Think Breathe Act. He is an experienced golf teacher specializing in mindfulness practices. Having evolved from a student of both golf and mindfulness, he realized at a young age how practicing mindfulness improved his golf game. From his early learning as a student of meditation, he integrated a unique approach that begins with the mental game, moves to the physical through special breathing techniques and in that pause, the whole body begins to shape itself for the swing.

As a teacher, what Joshua does best is customized golf instruction- everything from ball fitting to swing skill. He generates a custom plan for each student based on their current swing and physical capabilities. And he does this by carefully observing the unique needs of his clients
while at the same time, mindfully building a trusting relationship. He starts with the fundamentals of the set-up and continues element by element: club fitting, the mental game, the swing, and on-course strategy.

Joshua started his golf career by developing his own junior golf program at Cross Creek Golf Course in 2006 with the Hook a Kid on Golf Program. From there, he worked with adults in a variety of settings. Joshua teaches clinics and workshops on the science of putting using cutting edge technology to educate both golf professionals and also amateurs in the art and feel of the putting stroke. His work has included pioneering products such as the Cure Putter and Blast Motion.

What makes Joshua an asset to both you and your golf game is his commitment to your learning objectives and development of greater skill. Once he knows what you want and what’s getting in your way, he can bring out the best in you and in your game. How you do anything, is how you do everything. Through his guidance and leadership, Joshua is eager to actively support you in bringing your whole self to the game of golf as a game for life.

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In publishing and graphic design, lorem ipsum is common placeholder text used to demonstrate the graphic elements of a document or visual presentation, such as web pages, typography, and graphical layout. It is a form of "greeking".

Even though using "lorem ipsum" often arouses curiosity due to its resemblance to classical Latin, it is not intended to have meaning. Where text is visible in a document, people tend to focus on the textual content rather than upon overall presentation, so publishers use lorem ipsum when displaying a typeface or design in order to direct the focus to presentation. "Lorem ipsum" also approximates a typical distribution of letters in English.

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