Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Losing Gracefully

It's emotionally easy and exciting to win. But what do you do when they don't?! For naturally competitive kids it can be devastating.

My daughter had a tough time Sunday. The annual Chicago Beach Meet is a playful, fun, gymnastics competition that's outside, on the beach. But don't let the sand, sun and the relaxed dress code fool you. The competition is crazy fierce. She won a medal at Beach Meet her first year, as a 7 year old, and hasn't been able to place since. The past 3 years she's been zen about it, shrugging it off and jumping in the lake with friends. This year was different.

In theory, I know winning isn't everything... you can't win 'em all... what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... and all the platitudes and cliches. They all popped into my mind, but never made it out of my mouth. Her heartbreak was so raw that all I could do was hug her silently

I don't have all the answers. It's incredibly painful as a parent, to watch your kid get her hopes and dreams shattered. It's tough love to let them learn how to fall and fail. I told her it was fine to take a day and cry and rage and embrace her emotions. Then we watched a few funny movies, ordered pizza and made ice cream sundaes. Comfort is key. 

That night, even in her sleep, she tossed and turned and cried. The following day she was scheduled for team camp 9-noon, but she was mortified that all talk would be of the Beach Meet, and that she might cry in camp and that the other girls would make fun of her. So I made the executive call to let her take a down day. She was so happy and relieved at the reprieve. It was a simple call, and made a huge difference in her emotional well being & stress level. 

Once she was over the initial waves of anguish, we were able to talk about the meet more rationally, watch the video footage constructively, and put things into perspective. She had a lot to be proud of. I told her, she could give in and give up or take this as a challenge and rise to it, and after a day she was finally ready to hear that message and take it to heart. By Tuesday (today) she was eager to go back to training... kicking butt and taking names.

I've always been a pretty laid back parent--not overly pushy on the competitive front, but my daughter is uber competitive and hard on herself by nature, despite our efforts. Still, I've raised my kids to know they are fully loved and supported, and that I'm always proud of them no matter how they place or don't. And my daughter has matured a lot over the years, learning to control her emotions rather than be controlled by them. But here on the cusp of adolescence, with all it's tumultuous mood swings, I sat by helpless while she drowned in a sea of disappointment, anger, loss, fury, jealousy and self reproach.  But after the initial emotional tsunami, something must have sunk in, because she rebounded like a champ.

Sure, winning take a LOT of hard work, training and conditioning, but emotionally, winning is easy compared to losing! I told my daughter sometimes it takes more bravery, courage, and strength NOT to win. 

My 11 year old has gone to state 4 years in a row and won 24 blue ribbons & even a first place all around state trophy over the years she's competed. She trains 12 hours a week year round and 15 in the summer. But for every sport that has winners, there are also those kids who don't. What happens when a competitive kid gives it their all and it isn't enough? How do you teach a sobbing child how to lose gracefully?

Only 6 kids from her gym competed this year and they were in teams of 3 for the floor routine. The other 5 girls in her gym all got from 1 to 3 medals. She came home empty handed and sobbing her heart out.
The group she wasn't in placed for their routine and also got group standing medals. And all but one of the others placed in their individual events too.

At the beach meet each girl only competes one event plus floor (unlike all the other meets where they all do 4). Sage was slated for vault--her strongest event, but swapped in the final days because another girl had to get stitches and couldn't swing the bars.

As an 11 year old, she was finally one of the oldest in the 11 and under category and she really thought she had a good chance to place. Her bars routine was tight, she stuck her landing, and she rocked challenging moves. Still it wasn't enough.

It was heart wrenching to watch and know I couldn't just swoop in and make it all better. But in the long run, learning losing will be an invaluable lesson. No life fully lived escapes loss, and defeat (though never fun) is a powerful teacher. From the agony comes empathy. My daughter is already much more understanding and kind to others when she wins, having known how much it aches not to. Losing meets are just the first of many losses she may encounter--loves, jobs, possessions... And learning to weather those engulfing emotions, and come out standing, is one of the biggest wins possible.

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