19.10.15

It’s not the winning it’s the taking part

It’s not the winning it’s the taking part. I hate that phrase. We’ve all heard it, might even have said it, but deep down do we believe it?

Taking part is part of the thing of course, but in any competitive event surely it is the winning we want? After all why compete if you don’t want to win? I don’t mean that you shouldn’t do things that you know you won’t win, but when you do something, you know that you want to, you want to win.  Saying 'It’s not the winning it’s the taking part' implies that the winning is not just not the most important bit, but that it’s hardly important at all – and while there are a few exceptions where runners lose a race helping an injured runner over a finish line etc – winning is important. Winning is the best bit.


Winning and competing are important. As is learning to be magnanimous in glory and stoic in defeat, and we can’t learn to be a good winner or a good loser if we don’t do it and we if don’t play to win.

I was terrible at sport as a child, I came last in every event I was ever forced to enter – winning seemed like a shining light at the end of a long dark tunnel of pain. I hated sport, I hated it because it wasn't the taking part it was the winning, and I never won. "It's not the winning it's the taking part" is a sop given to a loser. It's not true, and if anything it makes a loss sting harder, I would rather have been told "Oh well, better luck next time, you never know, keep trying"

Later when I grew up and was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth I felt better about my lack of physical skills, after all, I often won at chess or cards, I was great at quizzes too. And that’s what hits home to me, that instead of telling people that it’s the taking part we should try and find things they are good at, fail at a few things but strive to find your winning event. Maybe there is something that you really love but you never win at? Well that's great, keep trying, enjoy trying, but don’t fool yourself with that ‘taking part’ talk, you know it, I know it – you want the feeling of winning.

Sometimes that win is beating your own personal time of course, not all events involve competing against another person, plenty of marathons are run by people who won’t come first but hope to conquer personal bests, or illness, or fear, that’s still winning.

If you get to the Olympics/Paralympics it's a big deal, but don't tell me those athletes don't want to win! Winning is the best feeling.

And if it's not the winning but the taking part that is important why is there an idea that you should always let children win at games played against adults? Lots of parents seem to do this. I’m obviously an horrific and cruel parent as I have never purposely let DD win at things. I might give her a headstart, more cards, etc because she is younger or smaller, but let her win? No way! If we played Top Trumps, I played to win, draughts? I’ll take a queen please and then all your pieces. Skittles? Give me that ball and let’s see who’s the best, you get the picture.

And yes sometimes DD cried and railed and complained “it’s not FAIR” and I would say “shall we play again but I’ll let you win?” and she would look daggers and say “No! that’s not fair either” And so she grew older, bigger, cleverer and eventually she started to beat me. Of course games of chance like snakes and ladders had always given her the odd taste of victory, but now she was winning based on her memory and cunning (Top Trumps) or her balance and steady hand skills (Jenga) or her speed (first one to the ice cream van gets free ice cream) And she flipping loved it. She loved to win because it was real.

She still loves to win now, and to be good at things. Yesterday she innocently asked me to help with a tricky question in her maths homework…it may as well have been written in Klingon when I looked at it! She sniggered, she already knew the answer. “It’s not FAIR!” I wailed.