By Julie Vandenboom
As a parent of a student-athlete, there’s one question that makes me cringe every time I hear it:
“Did they win?”
I understand that a well-meaning grandparent or uncle is probably just looking for a way to connect - maybe they want a reason to text a congratulatory remark - but at the high school level, sports is about much, much more than winning and losing. Especially when the program is struggling for some reason, there are other, better ways to evaluate a team’s performance than distilling it all down to a “W” or an “L.”
My son has been part of winning teams that I was embarrassed by. Yes, it feels good to win, but there’s a difference between graciously celebrating a victory and gloating over the opponent’s loss. My son has also been part of losing teams that have demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and that have inspired me to think hard about the way I personally handle defeat.
I’ve done some reading recently on the “Growth Mindset” - that is, the belief that talents can be developed through hard work, good instruction, and learning the right strategies. The “Growth Mindset” exists in opposition to the “Fixed Mindset” - the belief that an individual’s talents and abilities are set traits that can’t be significantly improved. When we encourage our kids to work through a difficult situation - and to focus on the process, rather than the results - we’re encouraging the “Growth Mindset” and giving those kids valuable tools to take with them into adulthood. Maybe the team loses to a strong opponent, but you see that one of your players is making progress with a difficult skill. There are lessons to be learned even in losing.
So the question should not be whether or not the team won. The question should be - did they play well? Did they have fun? Are they improving? Is what they’re learning today going to help them become a better athlete or a better person? If the answer to at least one of these questions is yes, then it really doesn’t matter whether they won or lost.
Julie Vandenboom is parent to a student at Eastern High School. For more reading on the “Growth Mindset,” see the book “Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential” by Carol Dweck.