When team captains choose a team, they each pick a player in
turn, till they get to the few nerds who are invariably
chosen last. These `nerds' frequently shine academically, and
are self confident enough in their other abilities not to
feel too badly about their lack of prowess in physical
abilities. Unfortunately, there will always be a few who do
not excel in any domain. What happens to their self-
This article is not discussing football games, or other
sports in the non-Jewish world which evoke the worst
middos in the players (and in the spectators). In our
schools, team games in sports lessons are useful in enhancing
the improvement of physical skills among the children.
Teachers use the opportunity to develop a team spirit among
their pupils and encourage them to pass the ball even to the
`butterfingers.' At one sports day, where parents were
present too, one girl with a leg in a brace was in a relay
race. When it came her turn to run, the other team stopped
spontaneously to watch their disabled classmate, and the
proud girl got a standing ovation when she reached the other
side. It was not only the parents of the girl who wiped away
a surreptitious tear, and her inclusion in the team showed
how successfully those girls had worked on their
middos. The stress was not actually on which team
Apart from team games, there are board games and
competitions. Board games are an excellent way for children
to learn about winners and losers. It is far better to teach
them, "He was the winner, she came second, she came third
and... was the fourth," rather than using the term
Some children are bad losers. So bad, in fact, that they will
do anything in order to win the game. For a mother to say,
"It's only a game," does not really work. When an expensive
crystal vase is smashed, we can tell ourselves that it is
only a vase, but some people are quite upset about the loss.
These games are played in earnest and mothers must watch out
for the child who invariably wins.
What is he doing to achieve his victory? Stories and talks
about the importance of honesty and of giving a chance to
younger children will probably help him to come to terms with
the occasional defeat and to use this ambition for better
For those children who constantly lose and who withdraw from
any competetive game, Mother should play with them regularly.
Yes, bedtime is chaotic, with so many children needing
quality time. Nevertheless, it is worth making this a
priority. Practice makes perfect and if the child, whatever
age, sees that he is a frequent winner, he will improve even
more rapidly. It is not too difficult for a mother to lose
unobtrusively, but if the child feels she is losing on
purpose, it will defeat its purpose.
Incidentally, there are many mothers who play with their
children of all ages regularly at bedtime, instead of reading
the nightly story. Some use the opportunity to praise a child
who gave way to another, who did not insist on his rights.
They praise the loser for not being a "sore loser' and in
general, teach the family how to behave during a game.
If one of the children habitually misbehaves in some way, a
mild reprimand is in order in public; the rest should be done
when the others are not around. Children should know that
games are not a competition between two enemies, but an
enjoyable occupation between two or more siblings or friends.
They must learn not to gloat over their victories and to
commiserate with the one who did not win this time.
In every community, there are now competitions run by various
organizations on who can learn the most mishnayos or
pages of gemora etc. by heart. If the competition is
run in such a way that everyone who succeeds in learning a
certain amount is a winner, there are more winners and no
losers. When the stress is on the `most,' that is when the
trouble begins. Furthermore, there is the phenomenon of the
little boys who are lauded to the skies for having learned a
certain amount and then they feel they know it all. It
happens repeatedly that these children slacken off after this
one great performance and the competition has done them more
harm than good.
There is a fairly widespread system, especially in Israel,
where they draw lots for winners. When a whole group of
little boys are encouraged to attend some learning program,
they are told that there will be a drawing for prizes. Each
little boy imagines that he will carry home some fantastic
prize and in reality, only a select few are chosen. Many
people object to this form of encouragement. It arouses the
envy of not a few who do not yet understand the idea of a
lottery and feel they have been cheated.
Finally, there is competition between parents and children
which frequently turns into a battle and not a game. When a
mother regards the nightly refusal of her toddler to go to
bed as a battle, which she loses, it is a great strain on her
nerves. If it is a game, she will not feel defeated. She must
know that she is the adult, and the children will take her
cue from her.
When there are arguments with teenagers (and there are some
years when every simple sentence seems to turn into an
argument!), parents must remember that these kids want to
win. They want to have the last word, but they do not mean it
as a personal insult to the parent. If they have seen a
parent rubbing his hands with glee after having vanquished a
neighbor in an argument, they will want to emulate this
behavior. However, if they see a parent who is in unchanging
control of his words and who doesn't take this immature
behavior as an affront to his dignity, these teenagers will
learn the right values and tools to be victors in their turn.
They will learn to take defeat as a fact of life and to stay
calm about it.
Everybody likes to succeed. Success is an acknowledgement to
himself and to any onlookers that he is worthy of respect or
even admiration. This acknowledgement is the best method to
gain self confidence. There is a vast difference between
success and victory. Where there is a winner, there is always
a loser, whereas achievement does not have to be at the
expense of anyone else.
Everyone can succeed, some more and some less, and in their
triumph, they are winners.