This past weekend we went to the Nova Scotia Provincial Judo Championship. It was the first time that our Bravo, with his brand new yellow belt, had competed in a tournament. He had participated in games and activities prior to the matches, but never been part of the “main event” such as it is.
He was super excited. And – extremely nervous.
Bravo worried that he would not know what to do, so in the days leading up to the weekend, he would ask David questions. What if the referee said something in Japanese that he didn’t understand? Would he know where to stand? All of the unknowns were scary and overwhelming.
When we got there, the wide, open space and the activity of setting up the mats beckoned. He ran around, gleefully helping. He couldn’t wait to change into his gi when he saw other competitors trickle into the venue.
As the morning went on, though, he grew more and more quiet. He walked off by himself, or sat alone.
Finding me in the stands, he curled into my side. He used my scarf to dab at the corner of his eyes.
“I don’t think I can do it,” he said.
I reassured him that yes, he could. “Everybody feels that way,” I told him. I’m no athlete, but I shared about how nervous I used to get before I sang in front of people. I knew that, like I used to be, he would be so happy that he went through with it once the day was over. I reminded him that he was there to have fun and learn, that it didn’t matter if he won or lost.
In that moment, I realized that I hoped he would lose.
Let me explain:
OF COURSE I want my children to be successful. And OF COURSE I want them to feel encouraged. But I also want them to be good people and life-long learners. And there is nothing like failure or having to work for something, to ensure that learning happens.
At the risk of sounding like one of “those” moms, my kids don’t often have to try too hard with most things. They are good students, quick learners, and have only experienced what I would call typical age-related challenges.
I don’t want everything to come easily to them.
They are very competitive in games – especially with each other – and have moments of poor sportsmanship. (We’re working on it, but let’s just say that video games have been abruptly turned off more than once around here.)
So the last thing I wanted was for Bravo to step onto the mats and win every match. I want him to experience his first tournament, to learn something new. And have something to work on for next time.
“Have fun, try your best,” I told him.
But to myself I added, “I hope you lose.”
And guess what? He did lose. Every one of his matches. More than that, he watched the three other people in his division stand on the medal podium while he got nothing.
He took it in stride and congratulated his opponents, and smiled at them all as he shook their hands. I saw Alpha comforting him after his third loss, but Bravo wasn’t in the dumps too long. When he came to see me in the stands, it wasn’t long before he was smiling and talkative.
Our kids will always be first in our hearts – the brightest, fastest, strongest, and most talented. But in the real world, there will usually be someone brighter, faster, stronger, or more determined; our kids won’t always win.
Besides, when it comes right down to it, winning is easy. Winning with grace is harder. But losing with grace? That is most challenging of all. And Bravo got his first lesson in that the other day.
He also got a lot of inspiration to keep working on his judo so that he is better prepared for the next tournament.
I’m so proud of my little loser. I hope he’ll be a great winner someday.