Of course children care about winning or losing

It’s with setbacks that we discover our true mettle, and those of our team-mates and opponents

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The Independent Online

Another week, another nonsense survey. This time, apparently, a study of 1,000 eight to 16-year-olds and a “similar number of parents” revealed that two out of three children would be relieved or “not bothered” if competition was taken out of school sport.

This, despite the same survey claiming that nine out of ten children said it was important to experience both winning and losing. Curiously then, given that 62 per cent of children said they took pride in winning (and 71 per cent of parents) the key headline reported was that of the first paragraph.

“Not bothered” is such a quintessential modern-day teenage expression, you will recall, that it defined the  Little Britain and Catherine Tate characters of Vicky Pollard and Lauren respectively. It has become so ubiquitous an expression as to become virtually meaningless. It’s right down there with “whatever”. Both can so often mean the exact opposite of their literal explanations.

Who are these children and parents who get surveyed? It is never me and mine; nor any of my fellow touchline agonisers through hour after hour of ferociously competitive netball and lacrosse matches.

Yes, the parents get emotionally involved, but seldom as much as the players themselves. To suggest the latter are not bothered about winning or losing is misguidedly inaccurate, bordering on insulting.

Sometimes parents do let their children down, losing all reason, particularly in certain sports, like football and rugby here or – in particular – ice hockey in the United States. But just because parents lose control doesn’t mean that children who maintain control don’t care any less.

We Brits have – of course – traditionally had a reputation for losing gracefully, one which is being largely undone by the terrible losing habits of modern footballers, our most high-profile sportspeople.

It’s not a huge leap from the descriptor “good losers” to the American view of such graciousness as being about just plain “losers”. But what sport does teach children invaluably is not just the obvious “teamwork”, but how to lose, because no-one, not even Jose Mourinho, wins all the time.

And, it’s in the losing or dealing with setbacks that we discover our true mettle, and those of our team-mates and opponents. You see it in the appallingly arrogant  behaviour of fans who are so used to winning in the past (Arsenal, Manchester United, or in the US, the New York Yankees) that they cannot handle their reduced status with anything approaching grace.

You need to be a player in, or – more importantly – a fan of, a losing team like my own Fulham, or my daughters’ lacrosse team this year to truly understand what living with losing is really like. If you can snatch disaster from the jaws of victory on a regular basis as Fulham did yet again at home to Hull on Saturday, you develop a very different perspective on life to that of, say, a Chelsea fan.

But painful as it is to lose, would anyone prefer to do away with the competitive nature of the sport? Of course not. That is its essence. Nor would those children involved in playing at school  wish to either. They just want their parents, like those Arsenal fans, to stop moaning, get a grip and be, well, sporting.

Twitter.com: @stefanohat