Learning to Lose

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that TRC and I have gone to play Magic at our local store a fair bit. He drafts along with everyone else, and we have a good time doing it. A few months ago, I noticed he wasn’t really engaging in the games anymore. He’d play, lose, and shrug off the loss and go play 3DS or something as he waited for the next round. I wanted to get him more invested, so I thought about ways to do that. In the end, I settled on letting him keep any prizes he wins for himself. (When you draft, you buy 3 packs of new cards to open. Depending on how well you do, you can win extra packs.)

That worked wonders. TRC was suddenly very motivated to win.

Maybe a little too motivated.

The thing is, he’s started to have some success. He’s doing better, playing better, and having fun. For the most part. But I’ve also seen him start to care too much about winning. This last Friday, he was doing really well. He’d won two matches and tied a third, and with one more win, he could take first place, potentially, and win up to 8 packs in the process. He lost some close games, and he ended up taking 5th, only winning 1 pack.

He was pretty crushed. To the point that I wondered if this was a good thing for him or not. But we had a nice long discussion about playing and winning and losing, and the importance of being grateful for what you’ve got. (There were 17 players there, after all. For a 10 year old to take fifth place against a group of people all college-aged and up? I think that’s quite remarkable.) I also told him that I’d be happy to help him improve his game for the future. He makes some consistent mistakes that if he cleaned up, he’d be doing even better.

Of course, as soon as we started playing and I was pointing out the consistent mistakes he was making, he was less than enthused about this help. He wants to do well, but he wants to do well on his own. The thing is, you can’t have it both ways. In my spare time, I read up on strategy and different approaches to the game. (I’ve settled on Magic as my game of choice because it’s very deep and is always changing and evolving. Learn the rules once, and you can play. But they keep changing the rules, so you’re forced to always relearn. I like that process.) To get better at something all on your own just doesn’t make sense to me. Why not learn from the experience of others?

In any case, as I’ve watched TRC go through this process, I can’t help thinking it’s helping him in the long run. The fact is, there are winners and losers in many situations in life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes through no fault (or credit) of your own. Learning how to lose is an important life skill. Knowing that it will happen from time to time and picking yourself up when it does . . . that’s hard to do. I still have trouble with it myself, and I’ve got a 25 year head start on TRC . . .

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