Sports' hard lessons - the art of losing well


THERE is an art to being a gracious loser.

From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

But it is here that junior sport gets a little awkward - junior finals fly in the face of society's every-child-gets-a-prize trend.

All season, games are based on participation, fun and friendship and having a go -which is fantastic - then come finals, where teams are pitted against each other in knockout style and there can only be one trophy winner.

And so, with junior finals comes the debate about whether play-offs hinder or help the next generation.

Does missing out really dent a child's self-esteem and shouldn't every child be made to feel they are a sporting star?

Losing hurts and with each degree closer you finish to glory the more acute the pain.

This is a good thing. These are life lessons.

Channel that pain right and it can give you drive to improve and get better, rather than lapse into complarticipation in junior sport is important.acency and a sense of entitlement. 

Round robin formats have their role in bottom-age junior sporting grades, to finish the season in a carnival style.

But they always left this columnist feeling a little hollow at the season's close. You need something to strive for, like the big kids do.

A trophy for just playing the game is merely stating the obvious. It is a little like wanting a clap from your boss for rolling out of ben to make it to work each day.

Plump up the motivational music during the week, watch Mighty Ducks movies on repeat (Disney still makes motivational sports movies, right?).

Finals always have a magical sense that anything is possible, anyone can be beaten.

Giants can topple.

If you get beaten, acknowledge a better opponeeaching finals is an awesome achievement in any sport.nt, know you gave your all and regroup for the next season. 

Finishing runner-up means you achieved a lot more than a whole lot of others, no matter what Abby Lee Miller tells you on Dance Moms about being the number one loser.

Remember how obnoxious the Australian swim team appeared with evident disappointment at winning Olympic silver in London?

Do we really want the next generation to perpetuate that?

Sometimes sport is just about having the guts to keep training, keep turning up and keep trying your best when times are toughest.

Sebastopol in Ballarat footy, Smythesdale in the Central Highlands and the folding Bendigo Gold in the Victorian Football League finished winless in senior football this season.

They are each the marquee team of their league and townships and their success sets the tone in recruiting and sponsorship - not an easy feat when it is winning that attracts people to the bandwagon.

These clubs had a core bunch of players that put in the same long pre-season and the same wintery training nights as their rivals, knowing they were unlikely to win each week.

They count their successes not so much in wins as they do in other key performance indicators.

One win would have been a good reward for effort, let along taking home a league trophy. 

When they do turn things around on field, it makes finals games and premiership victories all the sweeter.

It is tough to get to the top and even tougher to stay there. The lucky few to make it should be rewarded and special.

How long do we need to make sporting podiums a flat plain, dish out rooms full of participation trophies or send kids round and round in round robins before we unwrap the cotton wool and let them know what it feels like to lose a game?

Not every kid can be the lead in the school play, the drummer in the school band, a house captain or lunch monitor.

You need to earn it and know how to take it when you fall short.