No doubt some of the best sporting memories that you have involve winning. Though these memories are great, there is typically a side to the story that has been forgotten – the losers.

The reality is there are almost always going to be winners and losers in sport and it can be a heart-breaking experience for a parent or coach to see a child become vividly upset over something that has heavy investment of their time and effort and, more often than not, out of their control.

It is a huge coaching and parenting challenge on how best support a child through a sporting loss, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Here are a few points we need to remember before we can begin to properly support a child:

  • Failure and success are not on different ends of a continuum; in fact, they go hand in hand. In many instances failure is often part of and leads to success. Remember we learn a lot more from our failures than our successes. Failures are part and parcel of being a child (and an adult!) and we need to remind ourselves that they will be better off from the experience.
  • As a parent/coach/or supporter of children’s sport your number one job is to be supportive no matter what. Even with the best of intentions feedback and critiques are unlikely to be well received if your child is upset. The car ride home is one of the most dreaded aspects of children’s sport. Why? Because it is when most parents take the opportunity to provide feedback. As the top supporter, it’s imperative to provide positive helpful support.
  • Feeling upset and emotional is part of being a human and no-one should apologise or feel they can’t express these emotions. Don’t get caught up with the “life goes on” mentality. Yes, it does but put yourself in their shoes. You’d be upset so why can’t they for a moment?

Okay, so how can we help our children cope with losing?

Set a positive example

How you react will have a big effect on how your child reacts. Sometimes it’s wise to take a step back. A strong reaction from you will only increase a child’s anxiety or disappointment. Stay calm and remember, the number one reason why children play sport is to have fun.

Give them space and time

Know when and where is the best time to help your child positively reflect on the loss. They’ll be reflecting on it from the moment the game finishes so having you also doing the same won’t help. Let them think about it before you raise it.

When you do discuss it, make sure you listen to your child and see how they’re taking the loss. Be mindful of helping them to frame the failure as part of the journey to success.

Acknowledge effort and improvements

Yes, they may have lost, but did you notice they did an awesome tackle? Or did they improve on something you know they’ve been practicing? Acknowledging these sorts of things can really help your child realise that no matter what happens they’ll always have your support and you aren’t upset with them.

A great way to do this is, after every game, say to your child or the children you coach “I loved watching you play!”

Remember what your job is

For parents this is to be a supporter and source of unconditional love; for coaches this is to coach. We’re not saying there isn’t cross over of what your roles and responsibilities are – we encourage that there is, but a coach’s job is to help improve performance and make the experience enjoyable for all involved and a parent is to be the child’s emotional rock. When a child’s upset leave each person to do what they do best to avoid adding confusion to the emotions that they will already be feeling.

Our goal is to have children fall in love with sport and stay in sport. This means we need to make both winning and losing a positive experience. Have you got some coping strategies that you know work? We would love to hear them in  the comments!



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