Lessons from Losses

March was tournament month in Singapore. During the first weekend we sent a small team to the Koko Krunch Taekwondo Championships and last weekend, we sent another team to the Dumau Kids Jiu-jitsu Tournament. An objective assessment of their performance could at best be described as “mixed”. Yet, as a coach, parent and gym owner, I was nothing but proud of the performance of every single child who stepped into the mats and fought their hearts out.

When I watch my own kids compete, as former elite level competitor in both TKD and BJJ, I often feel that they haven’t done enough in terms of preparation. At the same time, I constantly remind myself not to live vicariously through my children. What are the trade-offs to being “sufficiently” prepared just so that they can “win"? Is it necessary for them to train 10 hours a week? Is it wrong to think they can “get by” on 4? What are my priorities as a parent: do I want them to win or do I want them to learn?

In this day and age of consolatory reward, there’s a lot of criticism about rewarding children for simply “showing up”. But being a coach for children over the last 15 years, I’m going to stick my head out there and stake that the learning process is quite different for children who fight, compared to other sports. Fighting is a crucible of a persons resolve and determination. It is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. For every fight, there can only be a “winner” and a “loser”. The tournament system is brutal because it equivocally ensures all but one child will lose at some point.

When I choose children to fight, I don’t choose them because I think they can win. I choose them because I think they will grow the most by putting themselves out there. The courage to face their fears, the resolution to keep fighting despite difficult defeats, ownership of their performance regardless of referees or opponents, and optimism that belief that they will do better the next time. These life lessons are infinitely more important than a gold medal. There is no room for excuses and only room for improvement.

While victory may be sweet, the true winners are the ones who can take away lessons that will guide them like beacons in their journey of life.