When I think of the quintessential good sport, I think of Uri, the child of friends of mine who are both musicians.
Uri grew up playing violin and piano, and even though he is wiry and small, he’s a fast runner and an exceptional soccer player. He has always competed—athletically and musically—and I suddenly realized when he came stampeding into the house with his friends one afternoon that you could never tell from his cheerful manner after a game or a piano competition whether he’d won or lost.
I asked him if he minded losing and he said, “Well, it would be a drag if I never won, but if other people didn’t win sometimes, it wouldn’t be fun for them, and I’d have no one to race against. And with music, when you’re playing your best, what you feel is grateful that Brahms or Chopin wrote this thing for you to play.”
The secret to this wonderful child? Parents who model gratitude for the good things they experience, as well as self-control and courteous, caring behavior in daily life. When his parents, Daniel and Nina, are in the car, they never get angry at other drivers. When things don’t go their way—when Daniel breaks something, or Nina, who isn’t such a great cook, forgets what she’s doing and burns something—they don’t get mad at each other.
Daniel and Nina play music at a professional level, and they expect Uri to excel at playing music, but when they praise him, it isn’t for being good, it’s for making the effort with a piece of music. They never act as if his performing well determines how much they value him. And they don’t expect a perfect kid. They know he’s like they are—great at some things, bad at others, and in the middle for most.
What makes Uri a good sport—generous when he wins and graceful in defeat—is that his parents never equate his worth with winning. His self-esteem comes from a variety of things—treating people well, having friends, being in honors science classes, mattering to his friends and family, and yes, from participating in sports and music.
Nina and Daniel are raising a thoughtful human being who is secure enough that winning or losing doesn’t have a huge impact on his self-esteem. As wonderful as they are as musicians, they’re even better as parents. The way Uri treats other people—as if they matter, whether they do well or badly—is the essence of how he has been treated, and the essence of sportsmanship.