Monday, September 23, 2013

Winning, Losing and Loving It: have we taught sportsmanship?

So, I hear you ask, what have you been doing with the first weekend of your weeklong mini vacation/break thingy??

I've been waking up early, to get to school an hour before the normal school day starts, to load 13 teenagers and myself into a pilchard tin bus a bit like this one... that we could drive for forty minutes to take part in a three day, all day, chess tournament. Yay!

This entailed watching seven rounds of two hour long games, keeping score, trying to keep up with strategies and points tables and hovering around to defend my players when opposing players or managers become...over-zealous. It happens, people. Chess can bring out the killer instinct!

But aside from the obvious downsides, the tournament has been a great experience. Granted I have a headache, and bitten nails from a (nearly) photo finish in our group. Granted my holiday is now 6 days instead of 9. Granted my ears are still ringing a bit from the bus trip home. But I find it impossible to spend a significant amount of time with a group of teenagers and not start loving them, at least a little. And this particular group has been working towards this particular tournament so faithfully that by now my husband and I have spent a great deal of time with them. So I have started loving them.

Not in a creepy way. Not in a parental way. In a teacher way. I enjoy spending time with them. I find them funny. I care about what happens to them. I am interested in the next episodes of their love interests. I want them to win, because they will be sad if they lose. But I want them to win well, and to behave perfectly, and show the world what amazing kids they really are, beneath the hysterical love interests, and phone obsessions, and weird hairstyles... *sniff*

This particular tournament had a good outcome for us. It was the provincial playoffs for the whole of the Western Cape, and our u15 mixed team won bronze against some unbelievably talented opponents. Our u15 girls team won gold in their section and will be going to nationals in December.

They were happy with their results. I was happy with the results too. I was also happy with the way they acted around their success, and around the teams who did not succeed. But it could easily have gone very differently - as I said, it came down to a very tight points difference in the final round. And I can't help wondering how different their behaviour would have been if things hadn't gone our way.

I hope it would have been the same. The amount of effort and skill they put in would have been the same, and would have deserved a similar amount of celebration. Being defeated by chance or a stronger team is nothing to be depressed or miserable or grumpy about. We always try very hard to prepare the teams for good losing behaviour as well as good winning behaviour. But the proof, as always, is in the pudding. Today we didn't get to taste the pudding. Maybe next time we will.

The mark of a great sportsperson is not how he wins. It is how he loses.

But I must say, I still prefer to win. Not even the prospect of doing it all again at the beginning of the December holidays can dampen my spirits. I am sure my ears will stop ringing soon...

Yours triumphantly


  1. I love this! I have no idea how chess works, but I coach an academic competition team called MACC. I have never really cared whether or not my kids win-- I care that they conduct themselves like ladies and gentlemen.

    1. I'm glad you agree with me - I find it sad how many teachers/coaches encourage their kids to be hyper competitive at the cost of decent behaviour. Or berate their kids for losing, as if the kid wasn't trying hard enough or something :(