Have you ever watched highly competitive sports with your kids? Let’s talk about the kinds of messages our kids get from these games.

The best coaches, whether high school, college or professional, try to make it clear to the players that the point of competition is to bring out the best in us. It’s great to win, but for every winner there’s a loser, and sports isn’t about always being the winner. It’s about playing the game to the best of your ability.

However, sometimes the message that comes across from the media, when you watch highly competitive sports, is, “It’s not how you play the game, it’s whether or not you get a gold medal that counts.” Silver and Bronze medals will be considered, by some, as “first loser” and “second loser.” Totally lost is the dedication to playing at a personal best, the massive commitment to the individual sport (by the athlete as well as family and friends), regardless of the placement.

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has “Always Compete” as a part of his personal and coaching philosophy. (It’s even part of his autograph.) However, competition is always about doing one’s personal best. The players compete for spots, and of course, compete against other teams at game time. What Pete looks for is how well each player works to be better every time they hit the field, whether it’s during practice or at game time.

It is a concern when kids seem to have their whole identities tied up with whether or not they win. You want to applaud the rock-solid self-esteem of people like Kent Ferguson, who barely made it into the diving finals in the Olympics in Barcelona years ago. He said, “I’m just as good a guy if I didn’t make the finals as if I were in them.”

That’s the lesson our kids need to learn from competitive sports. It’s not if you win. It’s not even how you play. It is how you value yourself, what you do to help and inspire your teammates, and what you have learned when the game is over that really counts.