Why Having Fun Is More Important Than Winning

I was watching an athletic event on TV the other day (not on purpose, I was on a stationary bike at gym at the time) when something struck me as odd about one of the high jumpers. It took me a minute or two to figure it out and then it dawned on me.

The guy was smiling. He smiled in the lead up to his jump and he smiled afterwards, as well. He made the jump, but I think he would have smiled even if he hadn’t. He was just enjoying himself.

I started paying closer attention and it turns out people (men in particular) don’t smile much when they’re playing sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a solo endeavour or a team sport, many of these athletes are all about the serious.

Of course, there’s always some back slapping and camaraderie when a goal is scored, but other than that they tend to keep their game face on. I’m not naive, I get that they can’t just cavort and be silly, but I also think there’s too much emphasis placed on winning.

It’s as if the game didn’t happen unless we bring home a medal or a trophy to prove otherwise. Hence the advent of participation trophies in recent years. Rather than have our kids feel less than for not winning, we placate them with an “also ran.”


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that a competitive spirit doesn’t have merit. It absolutely does. But winning isn’t everything; it’s just one possible result when you participate in sports or games or life, for that matter.

Rather than asking who won, we should focus on things like teamwork, enjoyment, skills and so on. So long as you’re improving in those areas, winning is inconsequential. Ironically though, it’s precisely when you do focus on those other attributes that winning often happens.

Learning how to lose is an important part of growing up. It’ll be a far easier lesson to grasp, however, if more importance was placed on having a good time, playing well as a team and honing your ball skills.


After seeing the happy high jumper, I wondered if I’d come across other sportspeople who had a similar ‘I’m here to enjoy myself’ attitude. Watching Nat Geo’s Breaking 2, I found my guy. The documentary followed three of the world’s most elite distance runners as they attempted to break the two-hour marathon barrier.

One of them was Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Hailed as the greatest marathoner of the modern era, Eliud is an incredibly humble and down to earth person. This shines through in the interviews throughout the documentary, but it was the smile that played on his face while he ran that caught my attention. This man was all about enjoyment. Winning was secondary for him.

Spoiler alert: He won the race, but missed the record by a minute. His response? A shrug and a smile. I’ll take an an attitude like that over winning any day of the week, thank you very much.

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