Sportsmanship is an integral part of parenting. We want our kids to play by the rules, both in games and in other aspects of life such as grades, jobs, or the relationships we develop with others.
Have you ever played a game with someone who always had to win? It doesn't matter whether they decide to cheat or they work the whole time at manipulating you into losing. They have to win. Games aren't fun with those types of people anymore.
I grew up as the youngest of nine children. My family was competitive but loving, too. I used to love to play games. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting around the kitchen table with a board in the middle trying to figure out which one of us should throw the dice next. I honestly don't remember winning anything but Candyland before I was 10. When we'd play Poison with the basketball in the back yard, I remember my brothers giving me a spot to hit on the pole or letting me move up to shoot, so it would be fair, but I don't ever remember my family letting me win. Even though I wouldn't win, I would go downstairs to the room my brothers shared and beg them to let me play with them. Over and over, I would ask them to play games or include me in their times of building legos into Starwars ships or football players (Ty Detmer?). At that point in my life, it was never about winning.
Later on in life, I started really caring about winning. It sort of came to a head about a year and a half ago when I was at home with my family at Christmas time. My brother, sister-in-law, husband, and I were sitting at my parents' kitchen table playing a card game. Playing games is still a common pasttime with my family although we're all grown. My brother and I got into a discussion about fairness, and (in my defense, I'd just had my son a little over two months before, and my hormones were still COMPLETELY screwed up) I lost all composure. I sprinted down the stairs and hurled myself onto the bed I was borrowing. My other sister-in-law who'd also just had a baby came in the room wondering what had happened. The story of the game tumbled out, but at that moment, I realized that it really wasn't the game that had opened my flood gates. It was the culmination of the pile up of several months, and the game was a speck on top of the straw on the camel.
This past summer, I was with my family again, and my family invited me to play. I declined and went for a walk. My wonderful brother (the same one I had been playing with at Christmas) came out and told me that he was sorry. I told him that it wasn't him. It was me. I am responsible for my own self. I didn't like the way I was playing, and until I could just enjoy the games for the games whether I won or lost, I wouldn't play. If I had to stoop to trying to make someone else lose in order to win, it wasn't worth it.
That's how I view life now. Some things just aren't worth it. If I have to try to make someone else look bad, so I can get the job, I don't want that job. I have been viewing success as an end result. If I received an A on a paper, I was successful. If I played a song in church beautifully, I was successful. Success in life isn't about the outcome. Success is about what we learn and whether or not we choose to be happy in the process. Life is all about learning and growing. Some of the best lessons are through mistakes. Disappointment comes when we set our hearts on certain outcomes instead of trying to enjoy the moment of working towards something. Just as in games, we should try to play to win. However, sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't. It's just about playing the game.