by Jay Payleitner

Dad, never let your twelve-year-old son beat you in driveway basketball. Or checkers. Or Scrabble. Or Ping-Pong. Or chess. Or anything that requires skill, knowledge, and practice.

Because in just a few years, he will beat you.

And that victory will be ever-so-sweet because it was earned.

There are rare exceptions to this rule. For example, go ahead and allow your preschooler to tackle you in knee football or pin you to the carpet in family-room wrestling. They know Daddy is goofing around and without a doubt you’re bigger and stronger.

Allow your middle schooler to beat you in most video games. They will anyway, so don’t kill yourself trying to be competitive. Their reflexes are faster, and they know shortcuts and secrets you don’t.

Finally, you do have permission to intentionally lose a game of driveway basketball under very specific conditions. Let’s say your growing son has been working tremendously hard to improve his game. You are still taller and stronger, but his game has been getting significantly more competitive. One night after dinner, you may want to covertly go 90 percent and maybe even bank a couple close shots off the rim just to give your son a taste of victory.

The two great lessons he learns that evening will be the value of his own hard work and—with your modeling—how to lose graciously. If you try this, dad, make certain you never let him know you threw the game. Equally as important, make sure you beat him soundly the next few rounds.

After that taste of victory over Dad, he’ll work even harder on his game.

I hope this makes sense. And I urge you to commit to being the kind of competitor you want your son to be. Tenacious. Spirited. Honest. Humble. Coachable. Courageous. And always, always, always, a good sport.

Competing with your son, you may be tempted to do some trash talking, but a little goes a long way. What might seem funny on your driveway will get him in hot water with future coaches and referees. Better for both of you to take it down a notch and encourage your son to let his skill, leadership, and sportsmanship do the talking.

As for you, Dad, be his greatest cheerleader even as his opponent.

Show appreciation when he hits a solid backhand volley. Give a fist pump when he sinks that birdie putt. Shake his hand after you lay down your king on the chessboard. You may have just found a worthy adversary to play once a week for the next 40 years.

Read more of Jay’s contributions to fathers.com.

Jay Payleitner is a popular speaker for men’s weekend retreats and best-selling author of 52 Things Sons Need from Their Dad, What If God Wrote Your Bucket List? and 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands. He has been a guest multiple times on The Harvest ShowMoody Radio, and Focus on the Family. Jay and his high school sweetheart, Rita, live in St. Charles, Illinois where they raised five awesome kids, loved on ten foster babies, and are cherishing grandparenthood. Track him down at jaypayleitner.com.

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Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • Do you agree with this approach to competitions with your child? What do you (or would you) do differently?
  • Initiate some healthy, competitive, physical activity with your child—no matter what his or her age.
  • Ask your child to show you his or her favorite video game—if you aren’t already familiar with it.
  • Tell your kids about a victory you had as a child in a sport or other pursuit. (Totally separate from when you might be playing them in basketball or another game.)
  • Then tell them about a loss or setback you experienced and how that might have shaped you in some way.
  • Are you a good sport when you’re watching your child compete? (Maybe ask your kids’ mom or someone else for their opinion.)

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