Saturday, June 12, 2010

Game On

This kind of correlates with Monday’s post that featured a bit about how kids now get graduation celebrations at every interval of their scholastic careers and trophies basically just for participating in sports.  I think that dilutes the importance of actually accomplishing anything like graduating high school or college, or winning some kind of tournament or championship. 

But closer to home, I wonder what the prevailing theory is on this:  Grownups, do you let kids win when you play against them at home?  For me, I tend to think that you shouldn’t.  (Yes, this is a post from another childless douche with big opinions on how other people’s kids should be raised.)

I may not have kids, but I used to be one and my dad never let us win at anything.  I remember being in maybe 1st or 2nd grade and I had this little tic-tac-toe game with pegs on a board and I must have played my dad about a zillion games and I never once beat him.

As we got older, played a lot of ball games with each other.  We almost always had a basketball hoop in the driveway, no matter where we lived.  We didn’t necessarily play one-on-one, but we played a lot of H-O-R-S-E.  Dad still kicked our asses. 

Now Dad was not a tall guy… he was 5’8” in his best days and has been shrinking ever since.  I was taller than he was by 9th grade.  By the next year, I was a lot taller and it still took me a real tussle to beat him at H-O-R-S-E.  He’d just sit back in the far corner of our “court” and sink one two-hand set shot after another.

Sometimes I’d say, “You better watch out, Dad, I’m getting bigger than you.”

He’s say, “Taller.  You’re getting taller than me.  You’ll never be bigger.”

There was a time in the late 70’s where racquetball got real big.  We got a family membership at a new local racquetball club so Dad had the opportunity to kick our asses at a whole new sport.  He, my brother Ed and I would play these 3-way “cut-throat” games and between the two of us, still couldn’t beat him.  He’d always hit these kill shots that would just die in the corner and there was nothing we could do about it.  It was like the tee-shirts used to say, “Age and treachery will always overcome youth and exuberance.”

But we stuck at it and began to learn how to compensate.  By this time, I was about 6’3” and could cover a lot of ground, and eventually, I could hit my own kill shots.  Plus, I could play closer to the wall and he would have a hard time getting the balls over my head.  (I still had some hops, back then.)

Finally, I won a game.  Man, that was huge to me.  I finally beat the Old Man at something.  Soon after, my brother starting winning as well.  And shortly after that, Dad stopped playing us.  It was like he was saying, “My work here is done.  Now go forth and whup ass.”

See, this was a real milestone to me and it never could have happened if he had just let us win at things throughout our childhood.  Perhaps it’s just wanting to reinforce the notion that the parents are always one step ahead.  If I’d always won at things, regardless of smarts or skill, perhaps it would have lowered him in my eyes.  Next thing I know, I’m Little Prince Shithead, acting all dismissive of my parents and being a general pain in the ass because I think I’m all that.

I’ve seen it happen before.  Back when I was married, (cold chill runs down back,) I had a stepson to deal with.  As I’ve mentioned before, the kid and his mom had some real problems with each other.  And to add to the stack, the kid always had to win at everything or else he’d whine and cry.  And when he “won”, he’d gloat like crazy.  Obviously, that grew to become a conflict that colored everything any time we tried to play a game, from street hockey to Monopoly.

I mean, if Future Ex or I landed on Boardwalk or Park Place, he’d throw a fit if we dared buy it before he could.    If we rolled the dice and our move landed us past his property, he’d whine and sulk.  And if he wasn’t winning soon enough, he’d start cheating.

I have no doubt that kid’s in therapy somewhere today. 

Anyway, now I’m at the point where I’m playing with my nephews whenever I come to visit.  I’m not sure what my brother does, but I still use the same philosophy my dad did.

Last weekend, I was playing football with 4-year old Sammy, our game being that he had the ball and had to run past me.  The first play, he came at me and I lowered my forearm and blasted him into the ground, then jumped on him.

Nah, just kidding… I’d just move laterally and reach out to scoop him up, turn him upside down, put him down again and stuff the football up the back of his shirt, to send him back to try again.  It was fun for both of us.  But I still was not about to let him run by me.  Even when big newly graduated brother Daniel tried to come in and block for him.  Then I’d latch onto Daniel, push him back into Sammy, then grab them both up and take the ball.  Old age and treachery…
Daniel and Sammy play ball on the OSU campus before the Navy game last September.

They got the last laugh, though.  I was totally wiped out Monday morning.  Youth and exuberance does have its benefits.  I have no doubt that one day, I will not be able to catch Daniel if he decides to run around me.  Or Sammy will give me a shoulder and knock me flat on my back.  But Uncle Bluz never dives. They’re going to have to earn it.  .

It’s already happened to me once before.  My buddy Rik’s daughter Kyrie once challenged me to a race.  This was in 2003 and she was about 8.  She was playing soccer and thought she was pretty quick, so as we were sitting around the back yard having a few beers early one evening, (me, not her) she said, “Uncle Bluz, I bet I can beat you in a race around the house.”

I figured, my long legs versus her little ones would be no contest.  Little did I know, this was yet another time that kid played me for a sucker.

We took off and as we hit the first corner dead even, I realized that this might be a problem because I don’t corner so well.  She scooted around the corner like she was on a monorail.  I caught up by the 2nd corner then zing, she catapulted around that one too.  The 3rd corner was downright ugly.

Have you ever seen one of those nature shows where the cheetah is running down one of those little dinner-antelopes and right as the cheetah pounces, the antelope zigs and the cheetah goes rolling ass over elbows across the savannah?  Well that was me.  I hit the third corner, my feet shot out from under me and I went flying along the grass like I’d just been thrown from a moving car.  Kyrie won, walking in.

Obviously I blamed it on the slick grass.  But I knew not to race Kyrie anymore, unless it was a short race and there were no turns.  (And I got a head start.)

So now I throw it to the parents… Do you let your kids win at stuff?  Or do you make them work to beat the old man (or lady)?


Mary Ann said...

Sammy comments on the graduation party guest list: "Do you want Uncle Bluz to come?" "O YEAHHHH!!!"
Cool kids like a challenge. They will eventually beat cha, as you know.
Wimps always whine, never really win.

DG said...

Definately make them earn it. Learning how to lose (without whineing or pitching a fit) is part of life. Being beaten by your mother in HORSE, well that just builds character.

bluzdude said...

Mary Ann,
We gonna have big fun, down on Amelia Island. Those boys won't know what hit'em.

THAT'S what I'm talking about. Would it kill a kid to learn humility before learning their victory dance? 'Cause in real life, kids will lose a lot more often than they win, so it helps to be able to deal.

Still A. Fan said...


my daughter loves it when we're watching something like that and i take on the voice of the creatures. we once saw a rhino or something on a show being taken down by a pack of lions and to this day she remembers my play-by-play.

Anonymous said...

Learning how to lose graciously early in life makes it easier to accept winning later in life, with humility and grace. Nobody likes a bragging winner. dad

bluzdude said...

Isn't it funny how when you're watching those nature shows, who you root for depends on what animal the show is about?

Like, if it's about the cheetah, it's all, "the noble mother cheetah brings home a newborn baby gazelle, to stave off starvation for her kittens for another day." And you're going, "yeah, the kids gotta eat.."

And if it's about the gazelles (ie. "dinner antelopes") it's like, "On the horizon prowls a marauding cheetah, bent on killing the most vulnerable among the herd, the mother gazelle's newborn calf." And you're like, "fucking cheetahs..."

bluzdude said...

I carry the flag proudly. Although I'm sure I did a LITTLE gloating after I first beat you in racquetball, but hey, it was about 17 years in the making. I earned it.

Cassie said...

OK. So I'm kind of torn. I do both. I let the kids win sometimes so they don't get discouraged and stop wanting to play. I don't by any means believe in 'everyone wins' because it isn't the way with the world. Just isn't...

Cassie said...

Oh, and to your dad, awesome comment.

The Guy's Perspective said...

It's a fine balance. I think there are a lot of entitled kids out there who think they're the best at everything because their parents tell them they're the best. That's BS!!

I let my kids win, but much of the time we're not really competing, just working on skills,etc. However, every once in a while I let them know who's boss. But my goal is to have them be able to beat me at everything. I don't really compete against them.

But when we do, here's how I approach it. Take basketball for example. What I do is handicap myself. I shoot lefty. Or if I play chess, I take my queen and/or rook out of the game. Then I try.

I want my kids to have healthy self-esteem, but I don't want them to think they are better, or worse, than they really are.

bluzdude said...

Your kids are also extreeeemely young too. Kind of hard to play "got-your-nose" all hard core.

bluzdude said...

I think that's a good compromise. I've done a lot of that myself, too. It's not like I was ever cranking hardcore slapshots at the kids, or blocking every shot in basketball. I'd usually play juuuuust hard enough to win. Like Cassie, said, I wasn't trying to discourage them.

Funny about the chess though. My Uncle Gordon is a brilliant Englishman and professor of psychology. He's the one that taught me how to play chess when I was a little kid. We'd play and he'd totally box me in until I didn't know which way to go, then he'd offer to turn the board around and play my position. Then he'd kick my ass with my boxed in pieces.

No fair using psychological warfare on a 4th grader!

Anonymous said...

I don't have kids either, but like you, I was a kid once, so I think I can speak to this. :)

I think *attitude* is the most important part of all of this. If you want your kids to learn how to be a good loser, but you do it by being a boastful winner, is that really getting the right message across?

I'd be afraid of approaching it the way you and your dad do because I know I'm just not that good, and at some point, I'd be afraid that I'd be TOO competitive and their opinion of mom (or aunt) would be squashed.

Interesting post.

Raven said...

I never let my kids win but somehow they usually beat the pants off me anyway!

stilladog said...

No wonder you beat those kids at football, they're wearing Ohio State jerseys!!

I don't know who "28" is/was, Beany Wells?

Beware of buying them each a Terrelle Pryor jersy though. Next thing you know your 5 year old nephew will juke you out of your underwear!

Bachelor Girl said...

Like you, I am a "childless douche with big opinions on how other people’s kids should be raised." And I don't think kids should win at anything unless they're superior. That's what a winner is. The End.

My parents and brothers didn't let me win at SHIT, and, being a highly-competitive little brat, I threw many a temper tantrum. In which case I lost AND got a spanking.

There was that time when I was six and I challenged my then-23-year-old brother to a headstand contest, which I won and for which he won a trip to the chiropractor as his consolation prize.

bluzdude said...

One should NEVER be a boastful winner. That undoes anything you may be trying to teach your kid about games.

Also, the child should be taught that they lost because they weren’t good enough (yet) at that particular activity, and NOT because the opponent cheated or the ref blew a call or the sun was in their eyes, or any other excuse. And if they work on their game and practice, they will be winning soon enough.

Although I’m not sure how that would translate to Monopoly…

bluzdude said...

Then that’s fair and square! And I’m sure you lose with grace and style…

bluzdude said...

Normally I’m all about Pittsburgh sports, but the Buckeyes are one exception.

We lived in Columbus for 5 years (my 5th-9th grades). My mom taught there and got her Masters, therefore she could get tickets. (During the Archie Griffin years) I saw my first college games there. Later, my brother came back to go to school there. So he’s a raving alumnus and is bringing up the boys the same way. We all get Family Wood when they do script Ohio, and we can barely say the name of “That Team Up North.”

I still root for Penn State as my 2nd favorite… Have always respected JoePa and always will.

Pitt? Well, I root for them too, but I’ll pay more attention once they get a little better. Or move to the Big 10.

bluzdude said...

Yes, yes, yes, and Hell Yeah, especially that eyeball thing.

bluzdude said...

Bachelor Girl,
The headstand contest sounds like it was stacked in your favor… maybe you should have let your brother win…


It’s the same with video games. I’m from the generation that just missed out on growing up w/ video games. So when I’d go back to Pittsburgh for the holidays, my little cousins would want to play me at video games. (This is back in the Nintento era, just past Atari.) I learned that there’s not a lot of “playing” for me when I “play video games” with the cousins. It’s more like, “watch them play for 20 minutes, I get a turn… go beep beep beep… Bloop! Done. Then watch them play for another 20 minutes.”)

Unapologetically Mundane said...

My dad never let me win at a thing, and I think it was totally the right decision. It became a big deal to play well against him. If my sister and I could keep him from scoring all ten points before we even got one in Euchre, it was a big day. It gave me respect for him and made me want to impress him. I'm sure it didn't feel so bad for him, either.

bluzdude said...

That's the idea... you get ramped up to play your best and you always have a goal. And you don't learn anything by getting a free ride. You have to play for real, to learn.

Judie said...

Aha! I know the answer to this one! If you are a smart parent (and that is using the term loosley), you realize early on that your children have no concept of winning or losing--they only know PLAYING. This goes on for several years, until they start telling you that they are way smarter than you. At this point, you tell them to run away from home now, while they still know everything.

If you have done a good job parenting, which a scant few of us have, eventually they will come back to you, begging you for advice on WHATEVER. Then you are the HERO! You give them such excellent advice that they go on to become wonderful and sensitive people who make a lot of money and set you up in your retirement condo in an exclusive resort area because they are so grateful for your sage advice.

This is not going to happen, so live your life as best you can.

bluzdude said...

That advice sounds so sage that I want to go father a child right now, just so I can try it out!

Cher Duncombe said...

What beautiful children an they are lucky to have you spending quality time with them. I love your Dad's comment and there is a lot of merit to what he says. If we teach our children that they can always win, they will never be able to handle defeat. And we all know that life hands us a lot of disappointments. We need to prepare our kids for that.

red pen mama said...

(have not read all the comments yet, but):

I absolutely do not "let" my kids win. That being said, my kids are 5 and 3. Flora whines her butt off and gets uber frustrated. I am trying to teach her to be a better loser. And I never, ever gloat when I win, I usually just say something like, "Do you want to play again?"

We were playing a memory game recently, all three of us, and Flora... dear, Flora. She has some attention issues. She honestly was not paying attention to where the cards were.

The 3yo won. I mean, she even beat ME.

That was a tough night for Flora.

(as far as "trophies": I think it depends on age. Should all the 5yos in my daughters soccer "league" get a little acknowledgement of their "season"? Absolutely. They got soccer-themed frames. Should 15yos? Not so much.)

Judie said...

Hold on there, Dude! Don't throw those condoms away just yet--I was in a fugue state when I made those remarks, so they may not be as sage as they sound.

bluzdude said...

In this day and age, if a child can’t handle disappointment, they’re in for a very long and bumpy ride as they get older, when they learn that the rest of the world does not bend to their expectations.

Poor Flora! Man, being upstaged by the 3-year old. I guess that’s a teaching moment… “better pay attention or the little one will beat you.”

I think little soccer-frames are a cute team gift for 5-year olds. Trophies (and medals) are something different and I maintain they should only be given for winning something, or some other specific award. Getting to play a game with your friends and have everyone watch you is a pretty good reward in itself.

GAH!! Now you tell me... Trash day was yesterday... better get my gloves and waders on for some Dumpster Diving. Mice don't chew latex, do they?