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The "Kicking the Pinecone" game 
has no winners or losers.
The "Kicking the Pinecone" game
has no winners or losers.
(# 1316)


422 words


How To Be A Gracious Loser
by Dianne Roth


About 15 years ago, I decided to go on a losing streak. Adults have the advantage when playing games with children. We understand strategy, children do not. The gracious adult knows this and does not use it to win. I suggest the adult should lose every game that is played with a child.

When I first came across this idea, I balked. I felt that children needed to watch adults be gracious winners as well as gracious losers. If the child wins all the time, she will surely become hooked on winning.

It took two years before I began experimenting with losing. While playing Uno, Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, Checkers, and many other children’s games, it was easy to lose. Children play games superficially. They roll the dice. They move. It is fun. If you play like children, without strategy, it is simple to stack the deck in their favor.

Initially, I discovered I was hooked on winning! I wanted to win, fair and square. It did not matter that children could not compete against me, fair and square. I wanted to win.
I made other discoveries. First, the more I lost, winning became less important. Is that what we want our children to learn? If I win, winning must be why we play. If I lose and have fun, the focus is on the fun.

Second, children enjoy the games more. They beg me to play. Then, when I lose, they laugh with glee. They beat the adult.

Third, and perhaps most important, they learn the fine art of losing. I lose and laugh. They see me throw my hands in the air and exclaim, “I never win!” I smile, give them a hug, and tell them how much I enjoy playing games with them.

Do they know I let them win? I am almost sure they do. If so, they surely figure out it is because playing the game with them is most important to me.

Does it ruin the competitive spirit? I think not. My own son played soccer on the high school varsity team. He was voted the most inspirational player. Then, he began running triathlons. He has a very competitive nature, whittling seconds off his time and shaving his legs to become more aerodynamic. However, losing does not defeat him.

It might take years for you to see my point. I’ll just leave you with the words of a kindergartner who was begging me to play a card game with her. “Please, I’ll even let you win!”


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on October 8, 2012