My younger daughter and I have a little ritual before she hits the ice for a hockey game. Because she’s often the only girl on the ice, she dresses separately, and often alone. If she’s the only one in the dressing room, I often stay to talk to her while she dresses. After she puts on her helmet, and before she heads to the locker room with her team, I bend down, hold on to the bars of her helmet and look her in the eyes.
And I say some version of this: “Play hard. Have fun. Be a leader. Do your best. I love you whether you win or lose.” Then I pat her on the head and send her to the locker room.
Those few words may seem trivial. They may seem trite. But they are important. In this day and age there’s a lot of ugliness in youth sports. Parents are the worst offenders. When your kids play competitively, it’s easy to get way too caught up in the importance of winning or losing. And our kids can begin to think that winning is the only thing that matters. They can begin to think that our love is based on whether they win or lose.
And it’s not just sports. Any competitive activity can become more than just an activity. Performing well in school, on the stage or on the sports field can become such a large focus of our kids’ lives that they begin to believe that their worth as a person is based on how well they do in those activities.
And it’s not. Their value is based on one thing — the fact that they are a child of God, created and loved by Him. Sure, God gave our kids their talents and abilities, but He gave them those talents and abilities so that they could use them for Him — not so they could feel worthless when they fail to win.
In this ultracompetitive society, our kids need to be told over and over and over again that our love — and God’s love — isn’t based on their performance. They need to hear us say, ” I love you no matter what.” They need to know that what’s important to us isn’t whether they score the winning goal or get the highest score or say all of their lines correctly. They need to know that what’s important to us is the character they show while playing, performing, or going to school. They need to know that what’s important to us is that they did their best and gave it their all.
Winning is fun. Trophies are great. But when our kids fail to bring home the trophy, when their mistake costs the team the game, they need to know that we still love them. They need to know that God doesn’t think they’re any less valuable. They need to know we’ve got their backs. Because the world will tell them the opposite.
If you don’t have a pre-game or pre-performance ritual with your kids, think about starting one. Find some way to let your kids know that no matter how things turn out, no matter what the scoreboard says in the end, what matters to you is how they carry themselves on the field or during the performance. Let them know that no matter the result, you and God will still love them when it’s over.