Thursday, February 15, 2024

On Losing

The kids have finished basketball season and have started volleyball (soccer, of course, continues year round). For both this is their first year of the sport.

Volleyball for boys remains very high school, I don't believe there is a boys volleyball league (at least not in King County). So far as I know, my son and his 7th grade teammates will have only two years to compete for their school with a chance of winning trophies. Maybe. There are only three boys from his class that signed up to play, and so we are combined with the 8th graders (who only had five) and are playing up a year.

Oh. And the school asked me to coach the team. Because (I guess) there weren't any other parents up for coaching boys volleyball (unlike during basketball when they had THREE coaches).


SO...I haven't played volleyball since I was in the 8th grade. Turns out there have been a lot of rule changes since 1987; I've been learning these (outside of coaching) the last couple weeks. Practices have been going well but our team is...rough. I mean, my own kid can barely reach over the 7' practice net, and the game net is going to be 6" higher. As with the basketball squad, our most athletic kids aren't the tallest. And this is the first year playing for ANY of the kids (outside of gym class). My confidence is none too high.

And yet, that's okay. Because one of the great benefits of youth sports (in addition to exercise and skill development and team building and teaching sportsmanship, etc.) is that they give kids a safe space to fail. Failing in the sports arena happens...blowing plays, losing, these things happen in sports. And kids get to experience that, and then experience that it doesn't kill you. It doesn't end your life, neither literally, nor figuratively. There's always another game to play, another play to be made. Part of MY job (as a coach) is to drive this home to the that they can be with the failure, yet still respond to it constructively.

It's important for kids to learn this lesson. Because later on in life, shit happens...loss happens...all the time. You get laid off from your job. Your spouse leaves you. Someone totals your car. Your basement gets flooded or your roof torn off by a hurricane. You (or a loved one) gets diagnosed with cancer. All sorts of trials and tribulations...some of our own making and some outside our control. And we are forced to respond to those trials and tribulations. There are all sorts of ways we fail in life; all sorts of way we take a loss. 

And how do we respond to it? What do we do about it? How do we roll with the punches?

A person's character is built over many years and many experiences. People can and do change their behaviors. But, man o man, there is a LOT about me, about my personality, that is much the same as it was when I was in my middle school years. Many of my bad habits were certainly acquired then, if not earlier. 

[not the drinking (thankfully) but definitely my tendency towards over-indulgence is a good example]

So allowing kids the chance to fail (yes, even these 13-14 year olds are "kids," despite being bigger/taller than me and having more mustache) is a GOOD thing. Get them losing, from a young age, is a good thing. Character building. Hopefully. Maybe (perhaps they've already had their personalities set, as mine was). Well, regardless...the experience should (I believe) be useful.

And I expect quite a bit of failure this season.

As an aside, I will note that old edition Dungeons & Dragons is ALSO a "safe place" for kids to experience (and learn from) failure, loss, and hardship. Playing D&D isn't quite as visceral as playing sports, but that's balanced (IMO) by a larger use of the mind, creative juices, imagination, etc. Personally, I find both sports AND gaming to be fun and valuable, and I encourage kids to partake in (or, at least, try) BOTH activities. 

Okay, that's enough. Time to start doing the taxes.
; )


  1. I liked this post a lot. Thanks for your thoughts JB

  2. A few charachter deaths still sting 30 years on. So do a couple of stupid plays I made in basketball or that time I tried to steal second base and failed. Dumb choices that teach life leasons.

    Dealing with failure is an important life skills. I think campaign play D&D can teach that. Invest in a charachter for months or a year then lose them to poor choice or bad rolls. Hurts.

    1. It CAN hurt, but there are worse hurts out there. It's good to build up a little toughness before the tsunami.
      ; )

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  3. We just started a kids OD&D group in Colombia City.

    1d6 hit points is a life lesson.

    These kids are really capable of confronting things I would normally shy away from with them.

    In addition to confronting individual failures the sandbox style has created conflicting individual desires. The kids are working through expressing different needs and boundaries while recognizing they basically have to remain part the larger group if they want to continue playing the game.

    Who knows where it goes, but it’s an impressive to see these small girls and boys choose to show up for it.

    1. That's awesome. I love running D&D for kids. Not sure if you care for any advice, but I have found the most important part of running games for youth is to emphasize the "team" aspect of the cooperation (helping each other, working with each other, listening to each other's ideas, etc.) can lead to success. To me, that's an even more important life lesson than the "resilience" that comes from experiencing failure.

      Shoot me in an email if you want to have any discussions or bounce ideas about running old edition games for kids (I've run B/X, OD&D, and AD& well as some other RPGs...for kids as young as 7-8). I'm happy to jabber about my own experiences, if you think it would be helpful.
      ; )