As a child, I didn't participate in organized sports (except for one brief, disastrous attempt at t-ball, but I've finally managed to suppress those memories). I was chubby, and shy, and insecure (aside to those who know me: Stop laughing now! It's the truth!). However, I'm glad I eventually uncovered my inner-athlete, since I now find myself raising two sporty little boys. The older one has played soccer for 5 seasons now, with the same coach, and most of the same kids. In 3rd grade they moved "up" a level, and are playing for the first time on a 3/4-length field, with full-size goals, and goalies, and referees. MLS it isn't, but it's almost the Real Thing!
My son's team is full of really terrific boys. They're enthusiastic, they run hard, they try their best...and they lose every game. They don't even score many goals (hence the losing). But Derek counts down to every single match, bouncing around the house in his excitement, checking the clock for how many hours until he can pull on his shinguards and cleats and get out in the grass. He bubbles over with the sheer joy of playing, and it is absolutely infectious (in a good way!).
On Game Days, the Parental Corps paces the sidelines, cheering at crisp passes, groaning at shots off the crossbar, and yelling encouragement until we're hoarse. After the last whistle--and yet another loss--Coach jogs over to us with a big grin on his face, to animatedly discuss all the little things the team did right today, and how much they're improving, and how close they are to that elusive first victory. No wonder my son loves soccer season. His entire experience--except for the teensy detail of the final score--has been one big barrel of positive energy. On this team, there's no criticism, no arguing, no defeatist-attitude. Instead, these 8 and 9-year olds pat each other on the back, congratulate one another for a job well done...and rehash the exciting moments over chips and juice boxes.
So these boys aren't getting much of a lesson in how to be a "gracious winner", but they certainly are incredibly Good Sports. And they've already instinctively figured out what even some adults tend to forget in the heat of competition: for a rousing good time, all you need is a ball, some grass, and a bunch of buddies to chase. And of course: snacks!