“Should I Let Them Win?”

My wife took the above picture of me and my oldest daughter. It was 2005 – which seems like yesterday and forever at the same time. I worked as a youth pastor in Mississippi at the time, and much of the world I know now was a distant truth. I knew it existed, but didn’t want to accept it. My child, who I could then completely wrap up, would eventually grow up. She is now 11. It isn’t like she’s getting ready to leave the house tomorrow, but tomorrow will soon become 10 years. There are many things outside the safety of our home and family that I wish she didn’t have to come against. However, she will eventually see those things. One of them, and chiefest of calamities, is failure.

How can we get them ready for this? Many of the games outside the home (school, summer sports, etc.) have eliminated losing and reward participation rather than victory. While I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to reward participation, it might be wrong to eliminate losing. Losing is a part of failure – and failure is a part of life. What we do with failure and how we react to it defines who we are. If we quit all the things we fail, we’ll be lonely and broke. Who wants that?

To that end, I’ve created a short list to help us work through the question, “Should I let them win?”

Beat them…gracefully.

In a word, “No. We should not let them win.” Again, winning is secondary to the game itself. The process of learning the rules, playing well, and being a good sport are much more important than the outcome of the game. There are few better ways to learn all those things than to lose. However, when you beat them, guide them along.

Teach them.

As you work through the game, make sure they see their missed steps, and even guide them to the proper way to make decisions while playing the game. I do this by asking questions. I’ll say, “So, what do you think will happen if you take that action?” or “How do you think I’m going to respond to you doing that?” It helps them to see the results of their actions, which is something often difficult for younger folks (and older ones).

Show them how to win.

When you win, show them that winning is just as much a part of the game as losing. Win well by thanking them for playing, complimenting their play, and offering to play again (if it makes sense).  Show them the normal behaviors of a winner include making the loser feel like they did their best.

Cradle them when they lose.

Lastly, account for their hurt feelings. It’s okay for them to mourn. Losing sucks. Don’t let them wallow in their loss – there is no need to make this their last game. Give them encouraging words and give them to opportunity to try again when they are ready.

Eventually, when they do win, the win will be that much sweeter.

2 thoughts on ““Should I Let Them Win?””

  1. I would say that playing games where they have a fair shot (primarily based on luck) such as Gubs or pretty much anything in a box by Gamewright is a good idea. Dancing Eggs and Animal Upon Animal is as fun when your 42 as it is when your 6. Haba has some of the best games for families.

    Now if they want to play risk, well… I don’t play risk. I hate Risk. Risk isn’t a game to me, it’s an instrument of torture.

    But in most skill based games, they’re generally going to be at a disadvantage. I would say don’t make you’re entire game night about family games, but use them to break up the fail factor. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is one that kids seem to pick up quickly and they always seem to be wildcards in our house.

I'd love to hear your questions and comments!