One of the seemingly troublesome sides of having a single elimination tournament at the end of the season is the kids, and especially the parents, tend to get caught up in it and the pressure builds. Even the 6 and 7 year olds know that the regular season games and tournament games are different. On the surface it can seem like a bad thing, and it can be if the parents don’t handle it well (and in every league a few don’t but for us most have handled it fine) But I’ve found that tournaments are very good for teaching kids how to handle pressure and also losing. The winning part is easy.
Here are a few examples – anecdotal for sure, but in my eyes very telling of how things go. When my son’s team (seeded #4) faced the #1 team in their U8 division, it was intense. It as clear during practices our kids were nervous. A rivalry had developed between the teams and any match between them was always exciting. My son’s team played the game of their lives with every player playing like all that they had learned that season had sunk in. It was wonderful to watch. But the #1 team had the best keeper in the division by far. He’s tall and quick and has a very good reaction time to shots. Our team won 2-0 but both shots were weird. One shot, drilled from an angle by our strongest shooter hit the pole with an over the top spin, bounced up and hit the bottom of the crossbar, fell onto the keeper’s back and into the goal. Needless to say after the game, their keeper was visibly upset and also had gotten kicked in the head during a scrum in front of their goal with 5 players desperately trying to kick the ball when the keeper decided to try and reach down to get the ball. Well, he was thankfully OK, but still very upset about the loss. The next day, my son, one of his teammates, and the other teams keeper all went to the teammates house to play. My son came home saying ‘we had a great time Dad!’ and when I asked if they were nice to the keeper about the match he replied, ‘Oh Dad! We hardly even talked about the match!’
The same thing happened this weekend. My son’s team played in their championship against one of the quickest teams. For a U8 game, the parents and coaches got to see one of the fastest paced games we had seen at that level. Both teams played really hard and it was great to see our team go step for step with their fastest forwards. But as always happens in those tight games, someone loses. While my son’s team had more shots, they ended up winning 1-0 on a goal scored from a scuffle in front of the goal where the ball squirted out as our goalie was coming in to grab it and it rolled by him into the goal. Needless to say our kids were upset – they knew they had played a very good game. But when the coaches sat them down, we told them to hold their heads high, they had had an excellent season and had nothing to be ashamed of. It was great to see them all straighten up a bit and run the parent bridge. Sure a few of them, my son included, were bummed afterward during the award ceremony. But the parents and coaches did their best to talk with those most upset by the loss one on one and within an hour many went to a local restaurant to celebrate. The kids rebounded nicely. I think they all learned something. Nothing will take away the hurt from a loss, but this morning all my son could talk about was next season and moving up to the bigger kids division. He had moved on.
I guess my point is that winning is easy. But as a parent losing is just as hard on you as it is on your kids, yet it is an excellent opportunity to teach them about losing, that it happens to everyone and they are ways to improve. I’m no expert by any stretch and I’m sure there were things I could have done with my son yesterday that I didn’t. But it was a great opportunity for me to talk with him about the loss, the great season his team had, and the noticeable improvement he had made himself, on the field and off. So sure, I really wish they had won, but in losing, they probably learned more.
Yeah, yeah, I know easy for me to say