A-Men Monday: Winning Matters

Monday, November 15, 2010

It’s A-Men Monday, y’all.

This is our new series. Every Monday this month (Movember), we’ll feature a guest post by a great dad. Today’s Fab Father spotlight is on freelance writer Doug Donaldson talking about how winning matters.

As the father of four, Doug has encouraged his kids to competefrom baseball, basketball, cheerleading and card gamesjust as long as they don’t beat him.

Even in his bio photo, Doug is all about winning:

"This is after a nighttime mountain bike ride where a few friends and I were racing down a mountain. I fell face-first in a muddy pool and knocked my nose on a rock in the process. Price of three stitches: $50 emergency room co-pay. Winning the race to the bottom: Priceless, as you can see from the smile."

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The Thrill of Competition and Agony of Ties
by Doug Donaldson

Parts of my body—and a bit of my soul—puckers when I go to my niece and nephew’s soccer games. They all end in “ties.” My 5-year-old niece Helena, who’s a real-life version of Dora the Explorer, booted the ball into the opponent’s goal a half-dozen times. The other team scored, maybe, two goals. We all know the score, even the kids on the field.

During the game, I imagine niece flying down the field, her cropped brown hair bobbing in the wind. The “Ride of the Valkyries” booms in my ears. When she kicks the ball toward the goalie, I imagine the sheer power singed the poor kid’s fingers as the ball floats into the goal. Another score! She does a little fist pump that makes Uncle Doug smile.

Yet, with no scoreboard and only the good-meaning intentions of the adult coaches, games end as a “tie.” Everyone’s supposed to be happy about just playing, exercising, learning new soccer skills and having fun. What a pile of crap.

I truly don’t know what makes me relish competition so much. It might be genetic. My son Matt once described how a feeling comes over him when he’s playing games—that he just has to win. His step-mom clued him in: “You get that from your dad,” she explained, shaking her head. She doesn’t like my competitive streak and has vowed never to play another game with me.

Genetic or not, the drive for competition, whether it’s a soccer game, family game night or riding bikes with friends is something I hold dear. Today, too many parents seem too accepting of “ties.”

I know the beauty of winning. I was a Little League coach once. For six years. That post of sporting responsibility came to me as a result of competition, too. I couldn’t stand how other coaches made decisions and ran my sons’ teams. (Don’t they teach bunting?!) So, as my older son advanced to the Little League major division, I threw my hat into the coaching ring.

Much like those parents at my niece’s soccer game, I had good intentions. Prepared with a faded, green duffel bag full of equipment, I was determined to share the joy of baseball with those 9 to 12-year-old boys. I wouldn’t make the too-harsh mistakes the coaches of my youth had made: One coach would call players sissies if they didn’t lean into pitches to take one for the team. Another believed the best way to teach fielding was to make kids run laps around the field for every muffed grounder.

Nope, that wasn’t going to be my philosophy. No yelling, no pressure and emphasis on sportsmanship and the fun of the game. That was my credo entering my rookie year as a Little League manager. And I sucked.

The first game, we were blown out of the water. We were 10-run-ruled by the second inning. I didn’t make kids run laps for making errors, and I emphasized positives in the post-game talk over juice boxes and Little Debbie treats.

Then we lost the next game. And the next. And the next. And the next.

All the while, I tried to be positive:

“Jeremy, you had a good swing on strike three.”

“Kevin didn’t let allow any passed balls this game. Let’s give Kevin some applause.”

“Blake, you did a good job unpacking the equipment bag.”

With a record of 0-5, the kids weren’t having any fun. They hung their heads after games and a few skipped practices. One kid wanted to take cello lessons instead of practicing. What’s the point in practicing if we’re gonna lose anyway?

That’s when I announced we’d be doing something a little different in the next practice: “We’re gonna win,” I told the skeptical kids and parents.

That next week, I mixed winning into practice. A contest to see who could bunt the best. Who can throw more accurately to home plate. I also explained baseball skills in the context of winning games: “If you make good throws to the cutoff man, then we can get the runner at the plate and win the game.”

The dozen boys on the team drank the winning attitude like their throats were parched. On the next game day, they were focused. We squeaked out a victory. After the game, the smiles of winning lit up the dugout. They liked winning. They liked it so much they won their next 10 games.

Turns out the parents like winning, too. During that win streak, parents offered to carry the duffel bag to my van, would show up early for practices, and cello lessons were entirely forgotten.

Winning matters. And as well-intended as those soccer “ties” may seem, kids will eventually figure out the score.

——
Doug Donaldson has written for national magazines like
Better Homes and Gardens, Men’s Health and Men’s Journal. His current competitive compulsion is WordSquared, a version of Scrabble.

2 Comments
  • 1
    Jeremy Donaldson says:

    I must say when it come’s to my fathers competitive attitude it has been passed down the family tree. Even playing Wii he is overly competitive to the point where he gets red in the face and the game must be cheating if he isn’t winning. I have been told by my wife thats when I look the most like my father. I will always agree that having a competitive drive in life is one of the best things to have. It makes you strive for something better in life be it a new job, a promotion, or even winning the affection of a young ladies heart. With out that drive you stay in idle mode and whats the fun in that. Without competition where will the world be………thats right we would all be like the swiss nuetral. Now as I grow and continue to kick his butt in everything. I pass along the competitive edge to my now 5 year old son whom all ready is more competitive than I ever was at 5, and admire his spirt nor I say drive to WIN!!!