“We are going to be moving our son to another club,” an impatient parent told me a few years back. “My son gets very frustrated with the losing and when his teammates are not good enough. We are going to a better team.”

“Your 12 year old is frustrated with losing and teammates,” I asked in disbelief. The child in my mind was growing as a player, the team was developing, and the environment and coaching was top notch. “Isn’t he thriving? Do you really want him to win all his games right now? When will he learn to lose?” 

“Maybe he doesn’t have to learn how to lose just yet,” said the parent. “His new team wins everything.”

“Good luck,” I said as I stood up, ending the conversation and knowing full well how this was going to end for this boy. It was no surprise when I heard three years later that he was done with sports. I have no idea how his life went from there, but I am quite sure that unless he eventually learned how to face adversity and lose, he was in big trouble.

Loss. Failure. Struggle. Suffering. These are all inevitable aspects of sports and life. This is the path of the champion. And sports is an incredible place to give our children reps at facing these difficult circumstances, losing and learning, suffering and growing. And yet far too many kids are protected from this essential lesson that the greatest athletes and highest achievers have learned. They are often protected by parents from struggle, making coaching nearly impossible, and growth unachievable. It is sad. And it must change.

On June 9, 2024,  Roger Federer gave the commencement speech at Dartmouth College. It is a speech that is vital for our young athletes to hear, because in it he shares his lessons learned from losing. Federer, the 8x Wimbledon Champion and one of the greatest players of all time, challenged the audience with a question. After explaining that he had won almost 80% of his 1526 matches throughout his career, he asked “What percentage of points do you think I won during those matches?” 

The answer may surprise you. Only 54%. That’s right, the best players in the world lose nearly half the points they play. “When you lose nearly every second point on average,” said Federer, “ you learn not to dwell on every shot.”

Losing was essential to Federer’s success, because it taught him to assess and move on. It taught him to accept what happened, and learn from it. “You want to become a master of overcoming hard moments,” he told the Dartmouth grads. “That is the sign of a champion… The best know they will lose again and again and have learned how to deal with it.”

In no way, shape or form was Federer suggesting that we try to lose, or not give our very best. He was suggesting that we attack every play, every point with our very best effort and focus, but once it was over move on to the next point. It made me think of the boy in the above conversation, who would get frustrated, lose focus, yell at teammates, coaches and referees, and totally take himself out of the game. His palms were constantly up, blaming others, making excuses, deflecting responsibility, and despite the best efforts of coaches, his parents always intervened to excuse his behavior and allow him to hide behind his perceived ability. 

Notice I did not use the word talent there. Talent in my mind is the combination of ability and character traits such as selflessness, persistence, grit, tenacity, etc. Ability is what we see; talent is what we see combined with the traits that allow for the development of mastery and promotion of long term growth and development. This child had little of these, and his parents refused to let them be nourished and grow. Federer had them in abundance.

“The truth is, whatever game you play in life, sometimes you’re going to lose. A point, a match, a season, a job,” said Federer. So learn to accept the inevitable. Expect things like loss, bad calls, mistakes, bad bounces, crappy facilities, poorly behaved opponents. They are guaranteed to happen, so expect the expected!  Deal with the moment. Then play the next point.

As I was finishing this blog, I came across this quote which has been making the social media rounds. I thought it was great advice:

“Parents: spend less time removing the mountains in your child’s life, and spend more time teaching them how to climb. You will not always be there…the mountains will.” – Unknown

And beyond mountains are more mountains. For ever and ever. So start teaching them to climb as soon as possible, while you are still there to give them perspective, support, and love.

Learning from loss is the way of the champion athlete.

Allowing your child to lose is the way of the champion sports parent!


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