In a society that is known for giving out participation trophies, 4-H and FFA both believe in developing future generations to not only be good winners, but also to be gracious losers. Not everyone will get a ribbon every time, but hopefully everyone learns something new. At a young age, it is vital to understand the grace of losing. You can learn just as much from losing as you did from winning. Losing is never easy, but it is a part of life.
As a parent, it can be tough to watch your child lose. However, during competitions, there will always be a first and a last. How to handle a loss looks different to every child and every situation. Here are some pointers when it comes to losing — like a champ.
First thing to recognize is the difference in 4-H and FFA competitions. It is not a ball game where you can blame someone else on the team for the lost. It is an individualized sport/activity where your own hard work shows in the ring or during the contest. Winning does not happen overnight. It takes effort, responsibility, and attention to detail.
Next, come prepared to lose. Wait, what?! … Just let me explain. First place should not even be the goal, it should be the reward. Don’t go into the competition expecting to win. That will reveal a cockiness that is unattractive at all ages. Start with a humble and realistic outlook; winning would only be icing on the cake.
Before any competition or contest, set three goals no matter if you win or lose. For example, they can be to learn something new, enjoy the experience, and place higher than you did last time.
When we lose we can do two things: self-destruct or we can pick ourselves up and set goals for the next time. Also keep in mind what the contest is all about — the love for your project. Always be proud of what you do. Secondly, take this opportunity to push yourself to do better next time.
When your child doesn’t win, you can either build them up or tear them down. Your first reaction is the one they will remember the most. Of course, always tell them how good they did and the noticed improvements from last time. Also, give it to them straight. Although they did their absolute best, someone else was simply better in the eyes of the judge.
In addition to showing support, be sure to ask the judge how to improve. Everyone knows when it comes to the judges to be respectful and to appreciate the fact they volunteer their time. However, every judge will have a different opinion and be looking for different characteristics. Ribbons are the judge’s opinion of who had the best day, not who worked the hardest throughout the year.
If the child feels comfortable and wants to see for themselves how they performed, record them. This provides the opportunity for them to watch it back and point out what they could do differently, together.
Sportsmanship is key during competitions. If you lose, congratulate the winner, it will build character. If you win, be humble, thank the judges, and look to see who you can help along the way. The knowledge earned after every show is more important than a buckle or ribbon. A contest is just someone else recognizing you ONE day, out of the 365 days you worked.
However, sometimes life just isn’t fair. Depending on the personality of the child and age, tough love works as well. Sometimes they just need to hear “suck it up, buttercup,” and “go get ‘em next time!” Or, add some humor — you were first, just on the other end. Every parent knows their child best and what they need in that moment. The only way to not lose is not participating, and that is just not worth it.
When all else fails, an ice cream treat is a great pick-me-up and supports dairy farmers!
No matter what you do, have fun! That is a lot of what 4-H and FFA are about! While instilling future generations the love of agriculture and livestock, they are learning responsibility, humility,sportsmanship, and a grace for losing. Ribbons will come and go, but the work ethic and responsibility gained will continue forever.