Can we teach our pupils to be good losers?

As Donald Trump continues to refuse to bow out of the US election, Kate Martin looks at how to teach pupils to lose with dignity
14th November 2020, 12:00pm

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Can we teach our pupils to be good losers?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/can-we-teach-our-pupils-be-good-losers
Donald Trump, Holding A Bawling Baby In His Arms, & Appearing To Bawl Himself

When the so-called leader of the free world loses an election, and his very next tweet is "I WON, BY A LOT" (please note the slightly hysterical use of capital letters), then you start to wonder how a man has grown to adulthood with absolutely no capacity to lose with dignity.

Since the US election, we've seen Trump unravel publicly in the way that a child (or even a teenager) might when they lose a game, or a race, or even get told no. So, given that resilience is such an important personal skill to develop, how can we teach children to lose with grace? 

Praise the effort

The cliché of "it's not the winning, it's the taking part that counts" is a cliché because it's true. 

It's how you play and how hard you try that matter - a fact I often had to remind myself when coming last in yet another cross-country PE lesson, back in my own school days. 

We should, as educators, ensure that we praise the trying more than the winning. Take opportunities during the activity to verbalise what pupils are doing well - such as not giving up, trying different things, remaining calm when losing.

Don't give everyone a prize

This goes against what is taught in some circles, but I honestly think that if someone lost, then they lost. In life, there has to be winners and losers, and we are doing pupils a disservice if we allow them to believe that we all get a prize in the end

Our job is to expose pupils to a range of activities that play to different skill sets. That way, everyone will likely win at something eventually, and they will win because they deserved to. 

Don't give in to tears and tantrums

A pupil is crying because they are bitterly disappointed, and you want to make them feel better. So you find a treat of some kind for them, too. 

I've given in myself before, but then regretted it the next time, when that pupil expected the same response again. It can be frustrating when you desperately want a particular child to catch a break, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Play fair, and don't fix games

It is tempting to make sure that everyone has a turn at winning, or to allow that child who has had a really tough ride of it to win at the game today. This not only teaches the pupil that winning is a right, but it also devalues the win. 

I used to fail at every sporting endeavour I ever tried, but the last thing I wanted was to be given a pity win. If anyone tried to make it easier for me, I would be furious - I still am, actually. Just ask my husband, who suggested I play with a five-shot advantage the last time we played crazy golf. He won't be doing that again.

Praise graceful winning

It is easier for others to lose if the person winning does so with humility. Guard against gloating and teasing by setting ground rules for winning, and reminding pupils of these before the activity or game begins.
 

Ultimately, in order to avoid a generation of mini-Trumps, pupils need to be taught that life throws curve balls to all of us. We will all fail plenty of times. They also need to be taught that the trick is not to believe that anything is the be-all and end-all of life. 

And, as Donald himself tweeted, back in 2014: "What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate." 

These are wise words. If only he could heed his own advice… 

Kate Martin is vice-principal at Restormel Academy, an alternative provision school in Cornwall

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