The Benefits of Losing

I slammed the ball into the wall, just as my mule went flying off my foot into the other direction.  I played on, hobbling toward my next hit and slapping the ball into the wall a third time.  Quickly it was returned.


“Game point,” I shouted.


The ball came to me and I nailed it into the wall.


The others dove across the asphalt trying to reach the blue, rubber, ball, with their tiny, outstretched hands, just as it kissed the edge of the wall and bounced off into oblivion.  They were unsuccessful.  I walked over to the heap of little humans and said:


“Who’s the man?  Huh?  Who’s the man?”


“God, you always win,” one of them said peeling himself off the top.


“It’s annoying,” said the one who was mine.  “And you’re a girl,” he added grabbing my hand.  “Can we go home now?”


It was then that I looked around for the first time.  Strange.  None of the other nannies on the playground were this engaged in handball with their little boy charges.


“Sure, let’s get my shoe,” I said, as we limped over to the far side of the tar court.


I could feel the stares of the other bored nannies heat up my back as they sat on the benches pretending to text.  They were saying to themselves, “I wonder where little Bill’s mom got that one?  Craigslist?  Who plays handball with their kids?  It’s weird.”


If this is wrong, Momma, I don’t want to be right!


Maybe it’s not cool to play handball with the 7 year old you’re babysitting, but I never thought I was there just to “watch” him.  A paid security guard could do that.  I thought I was there to teach him what I know.  You see, that’s my problem.  I always take things too far.


It all started with the kid beating me at chess.  Yep, a 7 year old beat me at chess.  In my defense, he was one of these super smarty pants kids who was in chess club from the age of 3.  He also attended a New York City magnet school for the gifted.  Basically, he had an education that the older me would’ve killed for.


Now, it’s not that his beating me at chess got to my ego.  Well, it sort of did, but not so much.  I’m pretty grounded and for god’s sake, I can handle a 7 year old beatdown.  What it did do was open up my curiosity.  A 7 year old can beat me at chess?  That’s so interesting.  Why is that?  It did this crazy thing to me.  It made me WANT to play chess.  I’ve never really enjoyed the game.  Never played it much as a kid, but once beaten by a 7 year old, it awakened the learning side of me.  I started thinking, “What’s the trick to this game?  What does he know that I don’t?”



There was only one problem.  The kid didn’t want to play me at chess anymore.  I bored him.  Literally.  It was too easy for him.


So, I made a decision right then and there, I would beat him at everything else.


When I think back on my own dad, he always beat us at games.  He still does, for the most part.  Although sometimes my brother will win now, my mother, and -yes- even me from time to time.  He’s a good game player my father.  He likes them.  Mainly, because there are rules to games and he likes rules.  Rules are black and white.  Emotions are grey and, therefore, confusing.


I don’t think my dad EVER let me win.  I can’t even remember it once, even as a kid.  But, I’m not sure he showed me how to win either.  Winning is something that I had to develop on my own.


With children, it seems to me there is a very fine line here.  You need to win enough so that they are challenged, but not beat them so much (or with very little communication) that they leave the game (and probably life) feeling completely defeated.


“Did you have fun playing the game?” I asked the little one.


“Yeah, but you always win,” he shrugged.


“Well, what was the score of the first game?” I asked him.


He gave me the answer.


“And the second game?” I continued.


He answered again.


“You see how much closer in the second game your score was to mine?”


“Yeah,” he said.


“And what does that mean?” I asked.


“It means that I’m getting better?” he responded.


“Yep, not far away from beating me, I’m guessing.  Do you remember the pointers I taught you?”


And then he was off…rambling on and on, in the way only a smart 7 year old can.  He talked excitedly about the game and how well he played.  He remembered different points and gave me a play by play re-cap.  You see, this kid ALWAYS wanted to play handball with me and he never wanted to play chess.  Why?  Because he was getting better.  He had some place to go with it and that kept it interesting.


I read this fascinating line from an article on Obama.  In it, he’s talking about his kids and he adds a final thought (I am paraphrasing), “Let your kids win until they are about 1 year old.  Then start winning.”


I agree.  Win.  Win lots.  But, what’s very important with kids is the HOW you win.  Do you win and just end the game?  Or do you analyze it and show them what they can improve by slowly coaching them to win on their own in time?


Letting kids win.  Should you do it?  Sometimes?  Never?  As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.



Sweet Mother is updated daily-ish.  If you’d like to follow the madness, you can do so by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the blog.



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Photo creds:

handball-feature, b&whandball, chessboard