Gifts for Mom, Grandparents, Besties and YOU🎄 ➔

This article was originally posted on Facebook and has been used with permission.

I’ve been chewing on this photo for days – it’s amazing.** Check it out.

Like the old lead-in voice to ABC sports broadcasts, it captures both “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” There is so much joy in that center-court dog-pile – the last-second shot that propelled Ponca High to overtime victory in the district championship and thus a life-changing trip to the state tournament. Wow.

But the image I can’t get out of my mind is the kid trying to pull her jersey over her face. That’s the leading scorer from Oakland-Craig High School – her season now over.

Part of why I can’t look away from her tears is because I know the family – and they’re incredible. I haven’t spoken to the parents since they lost, but I am certain of two things: 1) This game surely still hurts; and 2) Merritt and Dannika (the dad and mom) will know how to use this moment to help their daughter grow.

As the son of a Nebraska football and wrestling coach, my heart still pounds every Thursday and Friday morning in February and March as new championship weekends kick off. I love the drama. Our championships in swimming and diving, wrestling, and girls’ basketball have just wrapped up. Boys’ hoops tips off today. It’s a special weekend–teams across our state, from big schools in Omaha and from schools with tiny home gyms straight out of the movie Hoosiers, have all earned the right to come play dramatic games in Lincoln. It all comes down to this. One and done. Win or go home.

By late Saturday night, all but of a few of those teams will have lost, and a whole lot of kids will head home with their dreams dashed. It hurts. There will be a bunch of heartbreaking photos of kids who left it all out there. This is the tough side of sports.

…But what a huge opportunity you have, moms and dads, with your little “losers.” Don’t miss it this weekend.

Melissa (my wife) and I have been talking about this photo — and how probably the most important thing we ever learned from sports was the gift of losing, horrible though it felt. We often — and rightly! — spend a ton of time pursuing victory and celebrating winners. But Melissa and I have been comparing notes on the opportunities on the other side of the coin, when our kids experience the heartbreak.

As parents, what we say to our kids in those moments will have far greater impact than anything they would have learned from a dog-pile at center court. There’s more character-building opportunity in the scar tissue of the loss than there ever will be in the jubilation of the win.

So to the moms and dads driving to Lincoln this morning, here are four quick thoughts on the parenting challenge that awaits if your kid loses tonight or tomorrow or Saturday.

1. Don’t deflect the blame.

So often, the sweaty uniform hasn’t hit the laundry basket yet, and we’re scrambling to ease the pain of defeat by letting them blame other factors—“my teammate missed a free throw, coach called the wrong play, the third leg of the relay fell behind, the other guys played dirty, the ref blew a key call.”

Instead, encourage your kid to show gratitude to the coaches for a great season (and even thank those pesky folks in the black and white stripes). Extend a hand to a teammate who also feels crushed, pull him up off the floor or mat, pull her out of the pool. This is how we teach our kids to care for the hearts of others, even when their own hearts are breaking. This may be the first time in life that your child has ever been required to do this — but sadly, in this vale of tears, we parents know it won’t be the last.

2. Help your kid admit that, for today, the other player was better.

My dad was my wrestling coach, and I was fortunate to win a whole lot more than I lost. But today, those losses seem so much, much more important. My dad’s words still ring in my ears thirty years later that one of the things that makes this sport unique is there is absolutely nowhere to hide. The ball can’t bounce the wrong way; no one else can take the shot; there aren’t many gray-area judgment calls like interior line holding in football. You battle one-on-one, and when it’s over, you shake your opponent’s hand. You stand next to him as the referee raises his arm high in victory – over your head, in front of the whole gym. You gotta look him in the eye, and give him his due. For the 90% of you who won’t have a kid cutting down nets or raising up hardware Saturday, your gift to him is to encourage him to hold his head up and offer the other guys a “good game” with the sincerity of a man, not the begrudging of a boy.

3. Give them a minute to lick their own wounds; don’t immediately try to make them feel better about tomorrow.

I spoke with a mom from Blair last weekend who asked me to share words of comfort with her son. He’d just lost his shot at state with an unexpected disqualification on the final day. She wanted me to let him know that it’s not always going to hurt this much, and I did. She was surely right — it won’t hurt like this forever, and our kids need to know that.

But thinking about it later, maybe this never-before-known ache in his gut shouldn’t be too quickly mended. She said it was the worst thing they’d ever experienced.

There’s opportunity in that. Perhaps when we let our kids experience this pain, that’s when change happens. This is where the learning occurs, when character development becomes more important than winning or losing.

If this seems heartless, think of it this way: While it tears you up to watch your child reach for a dream and fall short, know that soon, scar tissue will begin to cover these fresh wounds.

This is GOOD scar tissue. The growth happening underneath these scars is precious, and will serve your son or daughter well. From this experience, your child will be able to acknowledge the success of others, even at personal cost. Your child will know what it means to work on a team to the benefit of others before self, what it means to take direction, to accept responsibilities, and to put forth their very best, leaving it all on the field/court/mat.

And your kids will know how to respond when even their best isn’t enough. All this happens to our kids so the next day, they pick up the ball, and head back to the gym. Working hard, getting better with that dream still alive.

Kids who can get knocked down like that and get back up are ready for all that life will throw at them. And isn’t that really the point of all this? To get our kids ready for real adversity?

4. Oh, and hug them like crazy.

Know that none of what you say to your child in those first moments matters as much as what you do. In those very first moments, when the agony of defeat is washing all over them, just grab your kids and hold on tight. Tell them you love them. Tell them the love is unconditional. Tell ‘em you’re proud.

This is your job. And you’ll never have a more important calling.

Enjoy the games everyone.
____

**Congrats to photographer Curt Hineline (of the Oakland Independent) on this epic shot.

Find Ben Sasse online:

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available for pre-order now!

Pre-Order Now

Senator Ben Sasse

Ben Sasse is a United States Senator, representing the great state of Nebraska. He was elected in a 2014 landslide, winning each of Nebraska's 93 counties, and securing the second-largest margin for a new senator in the history of the state. Living off of a rickety old campaign bus, he and his family campaigned tirelessly on a common-sense platform of restoring the Constitution to its rightful place and encouraging a more constructive politics where every public official works to make the American Dream achievable for every family. He believes in term limits and a humbler Washington, where the federal government does fewer things, but the more important things, more urgently, more transparently, and with less partisan screaming. Healthy lives are lived primarily in the private sector, and the vast majority of good policy is created at the state and local level -- and Washington should get better at talking honestly about these essential American realities. A fifth-generation Nebraskan, Ben grew up walking beans and detasseling corn, experiences that taught him the value of hard work. A graduate of Fremont High School, he was recruited to wrestle at Harvard and then earned a PhD in American history at Yale. Ben comes to the Senate having spent the last five years as a college president. When he was recruited to take over the failing Midland University, Ben was just 37 years old, making him one of the youngest college presidents in the nation. The 130-year-old Lutheran college was on the verge of bankruptcy when he arrived, but became one of the fastest-growing higher education institutions in the country by the time of his departure. Most of his career has been spent guiding companies and institutions through times of crisis with straight talk about the core issues. He has worked with the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey and Company, as well as private equity firms and not-for-profit organizations, to tackle failing strategies across a broad array of sectors and nations. Ben believes that we have a moral obligation to pass along a country as great and free and opportunity-filled to the next generation as we were blessed to inherit from our grandparents. This will require a more serious Congress, committed to reforming entitlements, telling the truth about fake federal budgets, modernizing national security for the age of global terror networks, and helping the next generation recover a sense of optimism about the American Dream for everyone of every race in every neighborhood.

10 Lessons I Hope You Learn Playing Youth Sports

In: Kids, Motherhood
Boy dribbling down basketball court, black-and-white photo

Last night was my sixth grader’s last basketball game of the season. He played with many of the same gang of boyhood friends he has known since kindergarten. This year, however, they were introduced to a traveling team, older players, and much stiffer competition than they had encountered in the past. They stood the test and played their little boy hearts out. I am proud of my son, his team, his coaches, and all the familiar faces we came to know in the Greenwood Laboratory School cheering section each week, sometimes two to three times in one week!  Here’s to...

Keep Reading

I Love You At Every Stage

In: Kids, Motherhood
Three children at park, color photo

Confession: I love the 1-year-old phase. Our youngest is one and such a joy to be around. He’s still so cuddly, finds such joy in the smallest things, is learning new things every day, and smiles at every little thing his big brother and sister do. I love the 3-year-old phase. Our only girl is three. She has a flair for the dramatic, but she is very forthright with her feelings. “I’m having a hard time.” “I just miss my daddy when he’s at the Fire House.” “I’m a princess.” “God made me beautiful.” She is quick to be a...

Keep Reading

Simple Moments Shape Childhood

In: Kids, Motherhood
Little boy in shallow water of beach

Sometimes it’s the little things that can turn out to be the biggest things. Motherhood has made me appreciate the everyday moments, the simple moments, differently.  Being outdoors with my boys can be simple in theory, but I absolutely love the adventures we take. Whether we are hiking, biking, swimming, exploring, or checking out a new park, this momma knows it is time well spent.  RELATED: I’m Watching You Grow Up in the Little Moments Because whether they realize it or not, these memories being made are the special ones. The ones my boys will carry with them in their...

Keep Reading

I Promise to Show Up for You

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother and daughter in garden

My child, I hope you know you can count on this: I will show up for you. I will show up when you wake in the middle of the night, when you get up too early or stay up too late. I will be there to make your meals, read you a story, and tuck you into bed. I will show up when you are sick—taking time off work, bringing you to the doctor, cleaning up your throw-up, and sitting up with you. I will show up at every game, sitting in the stands or a camp chair, freezing or...

Keep Reading

Sometimes Growth Is Tangible, and When It Is You Hold On Tight

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mom putting bike helmet on child

I never expected my sign to come in the form of a plastic bag. As a parent, you’re told over and over how fast it all goes, to cherish these times because they’re gone in a blink. You see the gradual changes in your kids as they move through milestones. One day, they can hold their own spoon. They begin stringing words into sentences. Their ages are counted in years and no longer months. You watch these things happen every day, but I didn’t realize some transitions would come in tangible ways, like a grocery bag filled with wet swim...

Keep Reading

Some Nights They Need You a Little More

In: Kids, Motherhood
Little boy sleeping, color photo

Some nights they need you a little more, mama. Because of the bad dreams or the bogeyman they are adamant is under the bed. Because firefighter daddy’s schedule leaves him missing goodnight tuck-ins and bedtime stories several times a week, sometimes leaving them a little needier and more emotional. Some nights they need you a little more, mama. RELATED: I’ll Lay With You As Long As You Need, My Child Because they are sick. Because they feel safe in your presence. Some nights they need you a little more, mama. It’s not always easy. It’s not always (okay, hardly ever)...

Keep Reading

Sweet Babies, I’ll Be There

In: Kids, Motherhood
Two children lying in bed, color photo

When your world is calm and peaceful, I’ll be there. When your world is chaotic like an ice cream shop on the hottest day of summer, I’ll be there. When you need a Band-Aid applied and a boo-boo kissed, I’ll be there. When you want to perform in your Frozen microphone like you’re performing for a crowd of 20,000 people, I’ll be there. When you feel lost and alone, I’ll be there. When you feel you have nowhere to go, I’ll be there. RELATED: I Will Always Be There When You Need Me, My Son When you need a pep...

Keep Reading

I’m in the Big Little Years

In: Kids, Motherhood
black and white photo of little boy and little girl standing in a window together

I’m in the big little years. It’s when you’re no longer in the tender season of babies and toddlers—those sweet, smothering, exhausting years of being constantly touched and needed . . . . . . but you’re not yet in the big kid years—navigating boyfriends and driver’s licenses and bracing your heart for the impending ache of an empty nest. I’m somewhere in between. I’m in the years of having littles that aren’t so little anymore, but still need you for so much. They have big feelings. Big ideas. Big dreams. But they have mostly little problems (even though they...

Keep Reading

1-Year-Olds Are Wonderful

In: Baby, Kids, Motherhood, Toddler
1 year old baby smiling

Newborns—who doesn’t love them?  The captivating scent of a brand new baby, their fragile little bodies laying so delicately on your chest. Everything that comes with a newborn baby is just absolute magic. But have you ever had a 1-year-old? I used to think the newborn phase was my favorite, nothing could ever be better than having such a tiny helpless little human rely on you for absolutely everything. I could hold my newborn for hours, soaking in every tiny little detail before it became nothing but a beautifully distant memory. But I’ve realized it’s 1-year-olds who have a special...

Keep Reading

My Kids Are All in School Now and It’s a Little Lonely

In: Kids, Motherhood
Woman looking out window alone

I had just dropped my children off at school. All of them. My youngest has just started full-time. It was my first full day on my own since she began, and I had really been looking forward to it, so I took myself into town to do a bit of shopping and grab a coffee. Just me. The kind of days dreams are made of, right? I could suddenly breathe again.  I only had myself to answer to.  I got my latte and something to eat. And then I cried.  My eyes filled with tears as I sat in the...

Keep Reading