As our children grow up and become more involved in sports and activities, we fathers face a challenging question: Do I let my kid beat me, or do I not take it easy on them and make them earn a victory?
It could be anything – basketball, video games, checkers, a race to the end of the block and back.
My 6-year-old son and I were recently playing soccer in our backyard, and after I beat him 10-2, he got upset and started to mope.
My response to him?
“We don’t get to win just because we want to. You have to earn it. If you don’t like how a certain situation happened, you have to work really hard to change it. If you want to beat me, son, you have to practice, work hard, and keep trying until it happens. But I’m not going to just let you win. That’s not how the world works.”
Look, my son and daughter will benefit from untold amounts of privilege as they grow up. We are an upper-middle class, white, Christian family. The odds are stacked in my kids’ favor – my son even more so than my daughter since he is a male. I understand and acknowledge this privilege, and as such, I want to make sure it does not create a false sense of entitlement with my kids.
There was a time when I would have let my son beat me at soccer. As he was learning to walk. As he was learning to kick a ball.
But not anymore.
Now that he is showing interest in playing soccer and basketball competitively (we just signed him up for his first semi-competitive team), I see it as my duty as his father to teach him that winning is earned and not given, and to win consistently, you’ve got to work at it. And to beat someone better than you, it takes a lot of practice and experience.
That championship trophy you want? Work for it. That scholarship you want. Go earn it. That promotion you want? Outwork your competition.
I let my 4-year-old daughter beat me at games and activities. She loves racing me up the stairs when its bedtime. She wins most nights. Most.
So many people love to bash the era we live in as one of participation trophies and “everybody gets a medal.” We can debate all we want about who’s to blame for this mentality (for the record, no kid playing tee-ball ever demanded a participation trophy. It’s the entitled parents that started that trend).
But for me, I will teach my children not to value these meaningless rewards. They will know and understand that in many situations in life, there are clear winners and losers. And to be a winner, you must earn it. You must beat someone out.
And to remain a winner, you must outwork your competition day-in and day-out and continue to get better, because there is always someone working to be the next winner.