When Cam Newton scores a touchdown, does a dance and grins, people like to compliment him by saying that he plays the game like a child. He’s just having fun, they tell us. But when Cam Newton fails to score a touchdown and thus has no reason to dance and grin, it turns out that he still plays the game like a child.
At a press conference after his team’s Super Bowl loss on Sunday night, Cam Newton was visibly upset. That is to be expected. But what should not be expected is his, well, childishness. Cam gave short answers to the questions asked of him by the same media that spent six months praising him and then he just walked away. Right in the middle of the press conference.
I’m not writing to take a shot at Cam Newton. If I was his age and had his talent, money and fame, you can be sure that my behavior would be infinitely worse than anything Cam Newton has ever done. However, Cam’s behavior can serve as a reminder to parents.
We need to do what we can to help our kids win. But we need to do just as much to help them lose.
Parents spend a lot of time driving their kids back and forth to practices, games and even specialized training. We want to see them win. I get that. And kept under control, there’s nothing wrong with it. The struggle that comes with preparing to win can give our kids more than another trophy. It can help mold them into responsible and productive adults.
But that won’t happen if we neglect the other side of winning. Everyone loses. And when our kids lose, we shouldn’t expect them to laugh and do dances. Again, kept under control, not liking to lose is healthy. But like it or not, it’s going to happen. And if parents put all of their attention into the victories, their kids will only be half prepared at best.
I’ve heard parents talk about never letting their kids win anything. They delight in beating their three-year-old in basketball. On the other end of the spectrum are those parents who want their kid to have a trophy for everything he’s ever done. So Billy has five very large trophies from five very below average seasons of baseball. Neither of these approaches are helpful.
Sometimes we need to give our kids a break. Letting your kid win the occasional game of Connect Four doesn’t make you a helicopter parent. He needs to know the joy that comes with winning and he needs to know how to win with grace. But his need to learn how to lose is equally as important. When your kid’s team gets embarrassed, he doesn’t need a trophy to make the pain go away. He needs instruction from you to help the pain make sense.
The next time your kid loses, embrace the opportunity. If his bottom lip pokes out or he starts kicking over coolers in the dugout, have a talk with him. Such behavior will not correct itself. When the Bible tells fathers to train their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, it does so because it doesn’t come natural for kids. They need a guide, not just a cheerleader, agent or defense attorney.
No matter how much time you devote or money you spend on your child’s athletic endeavors, two things are true. He will lose and, some day, he will quit playing. When those two things happen, he can either respond like a child or like an adult.
How he responds has just as much to say about the way that you trained him as it does about his character.
They always say that sports builds character.
But what they don’t tell you is what kind of character it builds.
Moms and dads, a lot of that depends on you.