BY NORBERT RUG
Games give us a way to connect with our families. It is a fun activity. It can lead to conversations and is a way to share time with them. I will admit it, I have “a competitive streak.” When you’re competitive, no amount of relaxation techniques or deep breathing is going to eliminate the deeply ingrained desire to win. It’s in my DNA.
My competitive streak means that I’m willing to defeat my own kids playing board games to teach them that winning comes from perseverance. When I played games with them I told them I would never throw a game and they were going to do a whole lot of losing before they would win. When they won, they will have earned it.
The first time I lost playing chess to my oldest daughter is still vivid in my memory. She triumphed over me after months of losing. I was as happy for her as she was for herself. Playing games has helped her to become a self-confident woman.
My son and I would also play chess and it was difficult for me to keep prevailing until one day he turned the tables on me. It was nice hearing him utter “checkmate”. When he did though, it sounded more like he was asking me a question. “Checkmate?”
I have now started playing games with my grandchildren. Not those games with touch screens or on computers but games with pieces or cards you can hold in your hand and that you have to think about your next move, games like Checkers, Trouble, Othello or Parcheesi.
I remember teaching my oldest grandson how to play canasta when he was around five. His little hands were so small he had to use a card holder and a mechanical card shuffler. It took him a while to win but when he finally did, he ran downstairs yelling to Nana that he had won. He now plays Canasta as a diversion in college.
Last year I started playing “No Stress Chess” with my 7-year-old grandson. You use a deck of cards to tell what piece you can move. We played this way awhile when he decided that he could move whatever man he wanted but I still had to use the cards. It was at this point I started losing. Finally, he decided neither one of us had to use the cards. When he’s studying the board or planning a move, I can hear the gears turning.
I bought a new glass chess set from eBay. My grandson was jumping up and down when it arrived. He actually beat me once using this new set. SMH. Me, a seventy-year-old chess player with maybe fifty-five years of experience and I get beat by a seven-year-old. But it’s all good. Playing games helps make us equals. I’m not the person making bedtime, homework or teeth brushing rules. We are simply contenders or competitors.
In the era of everybody getting trophies just for participation, being competitive gets a bad rap. I should make it clear that I am as good a winner as I am a loser. I don’t see anything wrong with losing a round of Othello against my grandsons. Healthy competition is a valuable thing, even if it means I don’t allow my grandkids to win. Losing gracefully takes practice. If my grandkids lose the low-stakes board game we play at home, then we can discuss sportsmanship and I can set a good example by not getting upset when they win.
Recently, we played a game of Trouble. After I won the first game, my grandson sulked and said: “But I wanted to win!” I said. “But you did come close. Remember that I’ve been playing this game since the 60’s so I know some tricks.” I told him that by moving several of his men instead of just one at a time, he would have a better chance to send my men home. I also showed him how keeping his men far ahead of mine would keep them safe. We played again, and this time I observed as he watched the board like a hawk. And dang it if he didn’t beat me. If I would have allowed him to win the first game, he would not have learned how to win.
It might seem like letting kids win is going to improve their self-confidence, but I disagree. I don’t think losing damages their self-esteem either. I think that losing whittles away at their fear of failing. I believe that letting children win could make them more likely to give up when faced by challenges. Because if they’re not fearful of losing, then I hope they won’t be afraid to try new things.
Besides that, “The agony of defeat” causes “The thrill of victory” to feel better. I want my children and grandchildren to see that losing is not a reason to quit but as a challenge to do better. And when they come running down the stairs screeching “Nana, I beat Papa.” they will know that they earned it. As much as I like winning, there’s something remarkable about losing, fair and square, to my own kids and grandkids.
Norb is a freelance journalist and a loving father and grandfather. His blog is at WhyWNY.home.blog