Winning and Losing

Part of growing up is learning how to play the game. When teaching a young child how to play a card or board game, we usually begin with games of luck. With no real skill involved in these games, a child is able to discover, in a non-threatening environment, that she sometimes wins and sometimes loses. The goal is not as much about memorizing the rules of the game as it is about learning how to behave when we win or lose.

We have seen children, young adults, and older adults win and lose well and not so well.   Winning gracefully is always the easiest, but even that can become challenging when it happens too often in a short period of time. Coaches never want to be the undefeated team going into the finals in a tournament. Feelings of overconfidence can quickly and quietly soften our drive and resolve.   Let’s also remember that winning can be a lonely endeavor.

This brings us to the most difficult of all – losing gracefully, especially when it is in front of friends, family, and teachers, not to mention people we don’t even know. Our athletes probably have the most practice at winning and losing, due to the nature of competitive sports, and I am always grateful for the example set by these students and teams. Unpleasant things may be spoken in the car on the ride home, but from the sidelines, it is hard to see a loss that isn’t swiftly followed by a “next time” or even a more difficult “next year” sentiment. This is when the team’s resilience can carry the day. I believe the tone set by practice and hard work can produce the unity and growth necessary to overcome temporary defeat.

But athletes are not the only students who face the prospect of losing. Actors don’t always win the leading role or any role at all; there are many more students not receiving awards on awards day than there are those selected for recognition; and students don’t always win the class or club election or the literary contest or art medal. Every day there are disappointments. All of this begs the question: why would we create a school program that puts students through this type of experience? After all, this is Harpeth Hall. We are all one. We all wear plaid, not just a few of us.

I ask myself that question many times throughout the year, every year. Our teachers ask themselves that question when they are struggling to give the fairest assessment for their students to earn a grade reflective of their understanding, effort, and progress. We all struggle with the balance of recognizing a few students’ outstanding performance over the disappointment that will surely be felt by others. How much is too much? Can’t we just give everyone an “A”? Give everyone a trophy? An award? A position on the team? A part in the play?

That is precisely where I wind up every time. No, we can’t give every student an award. If everyone was recognized, it would be devoid of meaning. It is our job to teach our students how to win humbly and how to lose with dignity, and I don’t know how to do that except by practice. As adults in the real world, we know we don’t all get the job promotion, and we know that our young college graduates may not even get the job. Yes, there are times when we lose. To add insult to injury, we sometimes know, and others may even acknowledge, that we deserved to win – yet we still lose.

We must work with our daughters and students to believe there is a next time to try again. We should always model a proportional response to winning and losing. We also need to follow the lead of our girls when they are as happy for a friend’s victory as they are for their own. My hope is that we can continue to teach our girls to be bigger than winning and losing, while accepting that it is most certainly a part of life. At the end of the day, I believe we have to go through enough tryouts, games, trials, matches and even awards ceremonies, in order to finally understand that the victory or loss is not final. It is merely a moment in our life’s journey of learning. The unity built in these moments of putting ourselves on the line can tie us together in a much more meaningful way than a trophy or award that went to everyone or to no one, in an attempt to be fair.  We are still part of one community, which is better and stronger than any individual loss or victory. The key is to remember that even if we win today, we still have so much to learn tomorrow.

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