Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.
That quote is quite popular.
The hard-nosed American baseball player who said it, however, wasn’t. As a matter of fact, Leo Durocher, was better known for his fist fights with team mates and his verbal abuse of umpires than he was for his baseball skills.
Unfortunately, his view on the importance of winning is taken very seriously today by many professionals and amateurs. It is also often taught to kids.
I’m not happy about that… which is one reason I’m writing about this today. Another is the media reaction to the English Premier League football derby played between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur two weeks ago.
I’m an Arsenal supporter and they played well and won 2-0, so I was pleased with the result, but some of the post-match commentary irritated me.
Both teams play attacking football. It is easy on the eye, and I find it fascinating. It’s the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with the game.
After the match, however, many of the experts criticised Spurs for being too open. They said Tottenham should have concentrated on stopping Arsenal instead of on trying to score themselves.
It is the same criticism Arsenal has been getting for years.
But wait a second; professional players earn silly sums simply because fans are willing to pay big bucks to watch them play.
That means professional football is a form of entertainment, and most fans would agree that goals and shots on net are more entertaining than tight defensive struggles.
The reason the analysts criticised Spurs, of course, is because they believe losing is terrible and they think the team’s fans should feel the same way.
I don’t, and I would prefer to see Arsenal compete for trophies and lose occasionally by playing entertaining football instead of going back to their old boring style that served up 1–0 results and lots of silverware.
But the attitude of professional managers and athletes is not the big problem here. The approach of amateur adult teams isn’t that important either.
The big problem is when the ‘winning is everything’ attitude is applied to social sports and youth competitions.
I have played social tennis and badminton where men and women of mixed abilities have played on the same court.
It can be good fun… but only if the better players don’t constantly hit unreturnable shots at their weaker opponents, which is exactly what happens when they get hung up on winning.
The person hitting the winner may get some brief joy, but the points are very short, and it doesn’t make for an enjoyable competition.
It also often leads to weaker players giving up the sport.
The same thing can happen when the need to win is stressed with kids, and it can lead to tears and inferiority complexes because the message can easily translate to winners are good and losers are bad.
That simply isn’t true.
There is nothing wrong with playing well and failing to win… especially in social or learning environments.
As a matter of fact, if you show me someone who needs to win all the time, I’ll show you a loser.