Nelson Mandela famously stated: “I never lose. I either win or learn.”


In so many ways Little League seems like a right of passage for young American kids. Every spring and summer, millions of kids play baseball and softball across the United States and other countries. For parents, this a fun, exciting, exhausting, and at times frustrating time. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as we go through these experiences with our kids.

  • Know Your Child – A lot of communities have multiple types of leagues that have varying levels of competitiveness and time commitments.When selecting a league, it is important to think about what your child wants to get out of the experience. Are they playing because they love the sport and want to win? Are they playing to have fun? Are they playing to make or be around friends? It is important to pick a competition level and time commitment suitable for your child.
  • Support is Key – Research shows that in these competitive environments we send messages about performance and approval to our children. It is important to understand what you are applauding or supporting. Kids need to feel supported for the effort and work that they put in. It is easy to cheer when your child hits a home run, harder when your child runs really hard to first base and gets called out. As parents, what we cheer for and applaud our children for sends a message to them about their behaviors on and off the field.
  • Know Yourself – Are you competitive? Do you want to win? Is it important to you for your child to be good at this sport? As parents, we need to be aware of our biases and the values we are bringing to the situation. They may or may not match our child's, and they may or may not be healthy for our child.
  • Understand How Your Child Learns – It is a great time to pay attention and understand how your child learns and what makes an impact on them. Do they learn by doing? Do they need things explained ahead of time? Do they learn by watching? Sports are a great opportunity to learn about your child, including how they best develop skills and take in information.
  • Sports, Especially in Childhood, Should Be Fun – One of the best things about all team sports, including baseball and softball, is that they build confidence, teamwork skills, and friendships for kids. Focusing only on the outcome of winning or losing ignores the tremendous lessons that baseball and softball can provide a child. Real-time lessons of persistence, the value of hard work, flexibility, agility, resilience, and collaboration are lost when we focus only on the score.

As Mandela indicated, there is value in losing: Sometimes more. Particularly during tense competitions, remember that it’s not winning and losing, it’s winning and learning.


Note: This content originally appeared on Mind Matters from Menninger, our blog on