Family Matters: Important life lessons learned through healthy competition


Our children love playing games. Whether they are gathered around the kitchen table with a deck of cards, shooting hoops in our driveway or tossing a Frisbee with friends at a neighborhood park, they often can be found doing something competitive with their minds or muscles.

For the most part, our family has managed to avoid organized sports. I don't know how mothers with even one child in a travel league do what they do. Multiply all the midweek practices, private coaching sessions and away games by 12 kids, and it becomes logistically impossible to keep the pace.

Still, we recognize there are many important life lessons to be learned through play, so we purposefully set apart at least a little time for sports and games. During the summer months, we swim, play tennis and ride bikes. During the winter, we break out the board games and basketballs and ping pong paddles.

Competition has a way of revealing character deficits in children - and sometimes in parents, as well. That's one of the main reasons we continue to play. Learning to win graciously and to lose with dignity takes a lot of practice. Some of our family members must summon a great deal of self-control to quell their disappointment when they lose.

Several years ago, when our most competitive sons were younger, my husband found a great way to reinforce the good character traits we wanted to see all our children develop: He'd grab a couple of basketballs every night after dinner and take the kids out to the driveway to shoot hoops in a family Knock Out tournament. Anyone who failed to control his temper during the game got to serve as "guest speaker" during Bible time afterward by reading aloud selected passages from Proverbs for Parenting, a topical arrangement of Scripture under such headings as anger, pride, patience and humility.

Those old clichés coaches have been using for years are still true and represent some of the best lessons to be learned through competition.

"It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." As a parent, integrity is far much more important to me than outcome. I would much rather my children lose fairly than win by cheating. I would be far prouder for my students to bring home an honest C than a dishonest A.

"Your greatest opponent is yourself." We've tried to teach our children not to view rival teams as enemies. Instead, we encourage them to do their best, to learn from the competition and to shake hands when the game is over, grateful for the opportunity to have participated.

"The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner." I don't want my kids to bellyache or cast blame when they lose, but neither do I want them to gloat and rub it in when they win.

These are important life lessons for all of us to remember - children and adults alike. The world would be a much better place if everybody would learn to play nice.

Jennifer Flanders loves playing with her kids and tries not to be a sore loser when they win, which happens frequently when it comes to sports but rarely when they're playing word games. For more of her parenting philosophy, visit



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