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As I write this the Italian men’s volleyball team has just beaten the USA to make their way into the gold medal match for a chance to be Olympic gold medal winners, the champions. Tomorrow (Sunday, August 21, 2016) Italy will play Brazil in what will be the pinnacle in the sporting career for many of the participating athletes. Whatever happens the outcome is certain. There will be the winner and there will be the vanquished. This is sport.

Now rewind a few weeks to the final “world cup game day” of my son’s summer soccer camp and this is what unfolded before my eyes. One of the teams found themselves down by a few goals with little time left to play so instead of trying their best the kids just sat down on the field. When the coach called them on it they said “nah, we don’t feel like playing anymore,” and then at the end of the game they said “we weren’t really trying anyway.” Now no doubt these children displayed poor sportsmanship but where did this mindset come from?

The only logical answer that I can come up with is, ourselves, the educators – the ones who should be teaching them better. Unfortunately in today’s digitally connected media driven frenzy world where an errant thought is re-broadcast and publicized millions of times over, the path of least resistance is to make everything “politically correct.” So everyone sanitizes their thoughts and speeches to the least common denominator. Just in case. So we can all feel special. So we can make sure that everyone is always included. So that we can all be winners. Except for the simple fact that we aren’t!

Our duty as educators is to prepare our children for the real world, and the quicker each of our students learns this the more confident, independent, and successful they will be. Because really one day the “everyone is a winner” dream does end and when they wake up to a different reality how will they respond? Does everyone get into the college they want? No. Does everyone get the job they want? No. Does life always work out the way you want it? No. A common fallacy is that those that do achieve success are the “winners” and by simple logic those that don’t are the “losers.” But herein lies the key …

Winning and losing does not define who you are, it does not make you a winner or loser, it simply defines the outcome of the act you just took part in. That’s all. It’s a one-off event.

So what we really should be teaching our students is resilience. The origin of the word comes from Latin meaning to jump back or recoil. In psychology it refers to “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity” and more importantly it is not innate but rather is a learned behavior. An attitude. A life choice if you will. And while there is no curriculum to follow to “create” resilient students, research indicates that having caring and supportive personal relationships is a big factor in children managing their attitude, and being able to bounce back from adversity. Because like it or not each one of our students will face challenges throughout their lives, and I know I will have been successful when my students respond to failure by being reflective and saying “ok, that didn’t work out, it’s ok. Maybe next time I should … ” and move on with a smile on their face knowing they have learned from the experience.

As Italy takes the court tomorrow the outcome is certain. Only one team will emerge as Olympic gold medal winners. And while losing sucks, make no mistake about it, the true test will be how the players on the losing team will respond. Will they leave the stadiums feeling and acting like losers? Or will they leave the stadium with their heads held high, confident in the knowledge that they gave it their best and lost and are ready to step back into the gym to practice for another four years to get even better and give it another shot at the next Olympics?

But having said all that, “forza Italia!”

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