Learning by Losing… Why Winning is Overrated

No one ever sets out to lose a game, but experiencing defeat in a safe, supportive play setting can actually build critical life skills!  Here are 5 life lessons we can learn by losing, plus tips to help parents and teachers drive them home.  Who knew you could gain so much by losing?!

5 Life Lessons Learned by Losing (say that 10 times fast!)

This dog is taking a Zingo! loss pretty hard...

1. Look before you leap. Often a careless move can be a game-changer, so encourage players to analyze their options and calculate the risks before deciding on a move. Practice patience and planning by playing a few rounds with extra “think time” before a player can move, and talk through the possible consequences of all move options.

2. Never fear… Persevere! When players find themselves with the odds stacked against them, it’s tempting to throw in the towel.  Encourage stick-to-it-iveness in players teetering on the edge of quitting by teaming up and looking for new ways to turn the game around together. Even when down to your last fingernail in Hangman, there’s still a chance!

3. Think like your opponent. In a game of strategy, focusing solely on your own moves leaves you wide open to an opponent’s sneaky plans!  Learn how to be at least one step ahead of your challenger by paying close attention to her moves.  Before deciding on your next step, look at the board through your opponent’s eyes to see what she’s got cooking… your best move could be a defensive one.

4. Learn to empathize. No one likes to be on the losing end, and an obnoxious opponent can make a defeat all the more crushing.  Ask players to share how it feels when you lose, and brainstorm comments they would find most supportive.  In the classroom, posting a list of encouraging phrases generated by students in your game area (i.e. “You played really well!,” “Why don’t you pick the next game?” etc.) is a powerful reminder of the impact of our words and the importance of being respectful both in victory and defeat.

5. You win some, you lose some. Remember, this is game play we’re talking about, so above all else, relax and Have Fun!  Understandably, players may mope and feel disappointed after a loss.  Validate these feelings and help them move on.  Practice with quick-play games that last only a few minutes so players can easily jump into the next round to start fresh.  Being faced with the prospect of fun game time ending makes it much more appealing to get back on the horse and give a game another shot!

Struggling to help a sore loser?  Here are more dos and don’ts for turning losses into learning opportunities!

What has losing taught you, either as a child or grown-up?  Have tips for helping kids cope with defeat?  Please share!

9 thoughts on “Learning by Losing… Why Winning is Overrated

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Learning by Losing… Why Winning is Overrated « SmartPlay -- Topsy.com

  2. Marcel

    Hi Charlotte,

    Nice article. I think winning is not overrated, especially for kids, I think winning can give them motivation to continue and find things they really love and are passionate about and make them stronger.

    Letting kids win can motivate them in the beginning of something new and can give them the right reason to find their passion or hobby.

    Of course they should also learn to accept to lose, to give them some extra motivation and to learn that they can not always win in life.

    I believe with young children you should find the right balance in letting them win and lose. Although with some games kids are just better than their parents (e.g. Memory aka Concentration or Pairs).

    Happy Puzzling!, Marcel

  3. Charlotte Post author

    Hi Marcel,

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – I certainly don’t mean to diminish the powerful boost that winning can have, not only for a child’s self-esteem but also for his willingness to take risks, stretch further, and take on new challenges… this piece was meant to emphasize that winning, developmentally speaking, isn’t everything and that a defeat shouldn’t be overlooked as there is valuable learning that it can bring.

    Letting kids win can be a slippery slope, and you’re right that the right balance is important. Picking games that can be played in teams is a great way to ease kids into competitive play, as a shared loss feels much less of a personal failure… and games that are simply won by luck are also good choices, (FlipOver, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders…), letting kids understand that sometimes a loss is simply the result of bad luck, not of a player’s mistake… odds are that all players will eventually get to experience both wins and losses with these games.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, this is great!

  4. Stephanie

    Great tips on how to work with your kids and help them learn how to manage the disappointments that inevitably come from playing games. There is nothing worse that a sore loser!

  5. Charlotte Post author

    Thanks for sharing… and agreed, no one likes a sore loser! The only thing worse, especially for a child learning to cope and rebound from a loss, is a sore WINNER! It’s much harder to refrain from throwing a tantrum when your winning opponent is running a triumphant victory lap around the dining room table :)

  6. Vincent | @CuteMonsterDad

    Great life lesson tips Charlotte, thanks for sharing. Teaching children to win or lose with grace will help them enormously throughout their lives. Therein lies the challenge since most kids will resist the disciplined approach of fair play initially.

  7. Charlotte Post author

    Thanks for this note – and for recognizing the importance of teaching kiddos that winning and losing are part of life! Game play is a fantastic, safe context in which to instill this lesson, and the powerful emotional, social, and cognitive resilience this builds will serve our kids their whole lives through.

  8. Katherine Collmer

    Charlotte, this is a wonderful post. During my work with children, I walk a fine line when I’m playing games. The mere fact that they are working with me indicates that there are some visual-perceptual, visual-motor and visual-spatial issues involved. And, for the younger ones, chances are I am going to be more skilled at the game. (Chances are!!) I like your suggestion for quick-play games that give them a chance to get the hang of it and then to work at getting better. Sometimes they know that I am holding back. When they ask me why, I tell them that these are practice sessions, like in sports, and as they get better, watch out! I’ll be putting them to the test. That seems to encourage them to learn as quickly as they can in order to beat me! For the older students, most of the time I will be learning with them! I agree that games should be fun….all learning should be fun. And by losing, we can find ways to become more adept at the game. Thanks for sharing! I’m going over now to take a look at your tips for turning losses into learning!

  9. Charlotte Post author

    Thank you so much for sharing, Katherine!

    I so appreciate your insight and hearing how games play (sorry, bad pun!) a part in your handwriting work with children – so many creative ways to incorporate games into learning! Please let me know if you’re ever interested in sharing a guest post with your experience, I think my readers could learn a great deal from you!


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