What Winning Means: A Parent’s Perspective

Justine Ix is the mom of highly-ranked Mid-Atlantic junior player Alex Ix, who recently received a sportsmanship award at the Battle in the Burg tournament. We asked Justine to write about sportsmanship from the parent’s perspective.

My son recently won a sportsmanship award at a high level tournament and as a result of that honor, I have been asked to write this post on sportsmanship from a parent’s point of view. I have been struggling with this task, but in doing so have come to realize that my views on sportsmanship are directly related to my views on winning.

In her blog and TEDx talk, former Olympic ski racer, Edie Thys Morgan, suggests that we should look more closely at our relationship with winning and define for ourselves, what is winning? (Spoiler Alert:  Edie didn’t win an Olympic medal. Not even a Bronze.)

Not too long ago, another tennis parent asked me how do I stay so calm while watching my kid’s match. My response: “It’s just tennis.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love tennis. We are a tennis family. I am a true fan of the sport and like any other parent, I want my kid to be the winner! However, at the end of the day, when the match is over there’s still homework to be completed, chores to be done, animals to be fed and relationships to be nurtured. Life to be lived.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of the sport: training & tournament schedules, equipment, travel logistics, rankings, sponsorship, the lure of college scholarships, and most of all winning!  Winning is great and because we as parents want our children to be the best that they can be we strive to do all that we can do to make that happen for them. I am there. I do it too.  Unfortunately, however, the general consensus is that not everyone can be the winner and in tennis where the athletes battle head-to-head, it is abundantly clear: there is a winner AND there is a loser.  We know this because the scorecard tells us so.  But is that really the case? Maybe there’s more to it?

At a recent tournament, my son Alex, lost a hard fought match. Down a set and 5-1 in the 2nd it would have been easy for him to just call it a day.  However, Alex did not give up. He kept fighting and in doing so fended off 15 match points. He had some game points too. He couldn’t convert, but he kept playing hard. On both sides of the net what

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Alex receiving his sportsmanship award after his match

transpired was great tennis. True determination and grit. Ultimately, the other player won the game, the set and the match. Alex was the loser.  After graciously congratulating his opponent at the net, Alex came off the court, the disappointment clearly showing on his face and I told him, that I could not have been more proud of him and his performance. Perplexed, he asked, “But why? I lost.”  It didn’t matter to me. To me, what the scorecard read:  Alex was a winner, and I knew that because in his performance that day, he defined for me my personal definition of winning:

  • Working hard and trying your best
  • Perseverance: the ability to keep going in the face of adversity
  • Constant learning/adapting: How can I do better next time?
  • Compassion for others and for oneself
  • Fostering relationships & just being nice even when it’s hard (to your opponent, parents, players, tournament officials, etc.).
  • Love what you do and do it with passion

And that’s what sportsmanship is to me.