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Donald Trump needs to take a lesson from kids’ sport – how to lose with class

Dave Hannigan: Trump presidency has dismissed countless life lessons in four years

Donald Trump is still refusing to accept defeat in the US presidential election. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

My 14-year-old son’s soccer team took a beating last Sunday night. They ran into a buzzsaw, a bigger, faster, better side that played them off the park. After the fourth, or maybe it was the fifth, goal went in, the other boys started showboating and generally belittling our lads’ best efforts.

Still, when the final whistle mercifully blew, Charlie and his crestfallen pals lined up in single file to trudge dutifully past the victors and their coaches to say, “well played”. As he slumped into the car for the long ride home, I tried to head off the torrent of complaining I sensed was about to be unleashed.

“You know what I’m going to say?” I asked.

“Win . . . with . . . class,” he replied, in the exasperated drawl perfected by every teenager heartily sick of listening to a pontificating parent, “lose . . . with . . . class”.


Win with class. Lose with class. The type of mantras we foist upon our children when they enter the competitive arena as nascent athletes. Beyond fun, we hope these games will, in some way, help to mould and shape their characters, teach them how to carry themselves with dignity on good days and bad. In victory and in defeat.

Some weeks, they'll be the hammer, others the nail. In sport, as in life. Best then to equip them early with tools to handle the two imposters just the same. The last thing you want is a kid growing up to be an entitled brat who can't accept a straightforward loss. Like the woebegone lad currently skulking about the White House in high dudgeon.

For parents across America, the last four years have been one long, painful, teachable moment. Witness a sample of the stuff we’ve told our children. Don’t mock the disabled. Don’t be racist. Don’t describe white supremacists as “good people”. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat on your taxes. Don’t make fun of stutterers. Don’t deny science.

Sore loser

Even now, in its very death throes, the Trump presidency unwittingly offers a chance to impart one more valuable life lesson. Accept defeat. The referee’s decision is final. Wish the winners well and depart the fray with your head held high knowing there will always be another game, always another shot at redemption.

Or, alternatively, kids, stomp around the Oval Office like a pathetic, sore loser decrying some wholly imagined injustice, demanding the scoreboard be changed. Just because!

As much as I despise organised children’s sport in this country, the tawdry events of this past week brought home just how much soccer and basketball have benefitted the personal development of my three sons. From bitter experience, they now know you learn much more from a loss than a win and there’s a strange kind of glory in certain, epic reverses. That passing the ball for somebody else to score can be every bit as fulfilling as taking the shot yourself, emptying the tank to run back to help an overmatched colleague is truly noble, and every player can take credit in victory but must also share blame for a defeat.

Simple concepts like collective responsibility and shared achievement, the very essence of team sport, the reason we put balls at our children’s feet and shove them out onto the field in the first place. We don’t do it because we imagine they will amass medals, win college scholarships or even one day make it to the show.

We do it knowing they will falter, certain they will fall, hoping they will pick themselves up and eventually figure out that’s the point of the whole business. You win some, you lose more. Somewhere along the way, they should embrace humility instead of falling for hubris and discover the effort is often more important than the result. The joy of sport. The nature of life.

This is why, trying to explain the meaning of something called sportsmanship to them before they are even old enough to spell it, we offer simple rules for callow youths to live by.

Puerile president

Play with a smile on your face. Never complain when you are being substituted. Always cheer on your teammates from the bench. Shout encouragement at each other on the field, not criticism. Be selfless, not selfish. Don’t expect to play if you don’t train.

Don’t expect to improve if you don’t practice. Don’t talk back to the referee or the coach. Ignore the cacophony of lunatic parents. And never, ever trash-talk opponents. Well, unless you are a puerile president who failed to absorb any of this on the baseball diamonds of your dysfunctional New York city childhood.

What makes parenting such an onerous task garden is that children don’t always obey these commandments. Heated conversations that ensue in those instances are often frustrating. A still sweating adolescent may be too immature and stubborn to process the import of what you are saying in the moment.

Over time, however, maybe after real life teaches a few harsh lessons of its own, they will come to appreciate, to understand and to remember that day on some mucky field you told them to cop themselves on, to shake the hands of the kids who bested them, to respect the bloody game.

By then, these monumental matches will all be misty memories but they will be ever so grateful you did not allow them grow into a petulant child trapped in a choleric septuagenarian’s body.

Win with class. Lose with class, He didn’t. He won’t.