Last year, our oldest was in Chess Club after school and finished in first place in the Beginner's Group, undefeated. We were overwhelmingly proud.
This year, he was in the Intermediate Group at Chess Club, and finally faced some competition. So when I met him outside the library after one session, I wasn't surprised or upset when he said, "I lost a game today."
I said, "Oh really?"
He replied, "Yeah, I don't care."
I took a deep breath and kept up some casual chatter so he wouldn't know how upset I was. I wasn't upset that he lost. I was upset that he didn't care that he lost.
I'm not saying he has to win at everything. I don't win at everything. But I try, for pete's sake. I try.
Friends of mine are facing a similar situation with their seven year old daughter. At soccer, she just loves running around and kicking the ball and doesn't work too hard to win. They're also a tiny bit competitive and have mentioned to me that they are trying to teach her to try harder.
I'm no Tiger Mom. I don't make him play chess for hours at home. In fact, I used to worry he was too fixated on winning. But when I hear "I don't care" it's like nails on a chalkboard. What I really want to say is, "I'm taking time away from my precious sitting-around schedule to enroll you in these freakin' enrichment and educational activities. Give a shit, please!!"
Fast-forward about three weeks to my time to chaperone the Chess Club. I arrive late (as usual) and slip into the room as the matches are just beginning. My son is so excited to see me, he glances up after every move and waves or winks or gives me a thumbs-up. (He also starts his typical chess routine of singing a little song about the next piece he's going to capture. It's actually pretty annoying.)
Move by move, the game progresses, and then it's done. And my son has lost. He's stunned and I see his face get red. He lowers his head to his knees and begins weeping, silently, bitterly. And I'm secretly, silently, thrilled.
This is my son, the one who hates losing.
We do a few deep breaths together in the hall and I keep a distance from him during his next game with the same opponent. A few minutes later he finds me and announces proudly that he won. Based on the pieces lined up behind his side of the chess board, he was ruthless.
This is my son, the one who defends his pride.
Later that night, after he's asleep, I walk into his room and see he's fallen asleep reading Chess for Kids. I turn off the light and put the book on his nightstand.
This is my husband's son, the one falls asleep reading and doesn't even wake up when the book lands on his face.