552. Chronic Winners

To some children, winning games is very important, and they’ll do whatever they need to do to make sure they win. I used to think that parents were always to blame for that – that some parents stress winning too much. And some parents are and do. I also blamed society as a whole. Society is, indeed, partly guilty, too. I’ve tried to get myself to consider winning less important. When I hear that a child has played a game or gone to see one, I try to avoid asking who won, and focus on other interesting aspects of the game.
A few days ago, I watched a four-square game. Annabelle, a seven year old friend of mine, seemed to be in charge of the game. Five other children were playing, too, and they rotated “in” and “out” the way they were supposed to in four-square. But Annabelle didn’t; she stayed “in” all the time. The other children seemed to accept this as a fact of life: Annabelle stays “in.” I don’t know how Annabelle had achieved this status, but it was clear that she had it.
At first, I thought she was simply more skilled than the other children, and was harder to trick. But I watched carefully, and gradually realized that she was playing about as well as the other children, but refusing to be “out.” The other children quietly accepted her refusals. Annabelle had an air of authority, even though she was shorter than the other children. No one contradicted her.
I know Annabelle’s parents. They’re gentle people who would not encourage their daughter to be a compulsive winner. Don’t blame them. And I know Annabelle, too. She is a gentle person who cares about other people’s feelings. As far as I know, her extremely competitive side only shows up when she’s involved in sports. But if you saw her play four-square, you’d think winning meant everything to her.
I haven’t yet said anything to Annabelle about what I’ve been thinking. I like her, and I’ve been afraid that if I speak to her about what she’s been doing, she’ll think I don’t like her. Maybe I’ll approach the subject gradually. Or maybe the children who play four-square with Annabelle will eventually get more assertive, complaining to Annabelle that she never gets “out.”
Annabelle isn’t the only child who refuses to lose. I’ve seen this happen before. In fact, I’ve written about it before. But I think I’ll tell you what I’d like to tell Annabelle:
Annabelle, part of knowing how to play well is knowing how to lose well. You’re very good at four- square, and so are the other children. But they seem to have more understanding of how to lose well than you do. That’s not easy, but I think you can do it. It means knowing when the ball has gone out of bounds before you get it, or when you have hit it out of bounds. I know that’s very hard to know, but you’re pretty good at four- square, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you got good at knowing when you’re “out.”

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