With my proud mammy at the Killeagh GAA dinner dance this year.

Reading John Allen’s piece on winning and losing in sport in today’s Irish times, I was reminded of my mother’s influence on my own reactions to winning and losing.

As a child, I took speech and drama lessons, and regularly took part in competitions. I wasn’t brilliant, but I wasn’t too bad either. I occasionally won (Bible Reading at the Midleton Feis being a stand-out achievement!) and was often a runner-up. As soon as the results of any competition were announced and I hadn’t won, my mother would instruct me to smile and congratulate the winner, all the while reassuring me that “We love you whether you win or lose.”

She always put those words into action too. I never felt any pressure to win, or to perform brilliantly in exams or in any area of my life, just constant encouragement to do my best, whatever that might be. I will always remember the morning I got my Junior Cert. results. Just as I was about to board the bus outside my house, sick with nerves, my mother came out and handed me a box containing a pair of gold earrings. “Dad and I want you to have these now – it doesn’t matter what the results are, we are always proud of you” – or words to that effect. Again, that constant reassurance that I didn’t have to win to be loved.  The results were good, and there was no prouder mother in Killeagh, but I knew that even if they hadn’t been, it would have made no difference.

These days, I still hate defeat, I still hate failure, I still want to be the best I can at what I do. But most importantly, I know that if I fail, if I am defeated, if I lose a battle, that doesn’t change who I am or what I mean to the people who love me. Winning is wonderful, but the feeling of euphoria is brief, and try as we might to prolong it, we can’t recapture that moment except by repeating it. Defeat is appalling, physically painful, emotionally draining – like any loss, we must allow ourselves to feel the pain and then try to move on.  And win or lose, as one of my favourite sayings always reminds me:

This too shall pass.

Neither winning or losing should define us as people – it’s how we deal with them that matters. And parents, you have a huge role to play in how your children learn to deal with these things. If you react overly negatively to defeat, they will learn that behaviour too. If you behave as if winning is the be-all and end-all, they will too. If you show them unconditional love and praise them for participation as well as for success, they will learn to value themselves regardless of their performance – in life as well as on the sports field.