A Guide to Sportsmanship by a 4-year-old


The game of Snakes and Ladders has a simple premise. Dice-rolling, space-moving…all while being bored at the beginning and breathless at the end as you race to the be first to space number 100, so you can throw your hands in the air and yell victoriously, “I win!”

If you don’t win this game of pure chance, the inclination is to wrinkle your nose in disappointment as you mentally replay the efforts, thinking of how much time it took and how much of your life has therefore been wasted. Meanwhile, the winner is likely still grinning unapologetically, or even wriggling in some sort of victory dance.

At least, that’s how grownups play it—if grownups played Snakes and Ladders, which to be honest, I don’t hear about all that much.

I played it with my four-year-old, and it went differently. In two different ways.

I reached 100 first, and called with a smile, “100! I win!”

Timmy looked at me and grinned even wider than I did. “Oh, yes! You did! You did 100!” He started vigorously patting me on my back, and continued, “Good job, Mummy! Well done!”

I was delighted, of course. It’s always nice to be congratulated for one’s efforts, even if no actual skill was involved. I was also relieved to not have to comfort a child distressed by the realities of life. One can’t win everything, every time.

“Thank you!” I replied, mimicking his gestures and enthusiasm. “What a good game! You played well too—really good sportsmanship!” He probably has no idea what that means, but with both of us grinning and patting each other on the back, he didn’t seem to mind. And by then, I was more delighted with the aftermath than with the victory.

His other unconventional response to the game had perhaps been owing to his still learning how it works. But while he enjoyed making his shiny green cone climb the ladders it encountered, he found a much greater joy in sliding it down the backs of the snakes.

Perhaps in time he’ll develop a distaste to the snakes and what they mean for him in the game. But his delight in sending his piece down the slides made no difference to the game itself—its outcome relying entirely on the roll of the dice—it only made a difference to his enjoyment of it.

He thought the ladders were great—a higher number, yay!

He thought the snakes were great—a ride down a slide, yay!

I’d like to be able to say I would have been as gracious and excited as Timmy, if he had been the one to reach 100 first. But I know for a fact I wouldn’t have been. I was too hot for that. Too sweaty and sticky for that. And much, much too grownup for that.


(4) Comments

  • Rae
    23 Dec 2016

    Oh, isn’t that lovely? He’ll remember it as a fun time while you are enjoying watching him growing up, taking joy out of little things, and demonstrating his growing maturity.

  • Deborah Makarios
    24 Dec 2016

    Smiling all over my face 🙂 Just don’t introduce him to Monopoly.

    • Eve
      24 Dec 2016

      I recently watched a YouTube video explaining how Monopoly was designed to be played, and how things like hotels, and Free Parking=Free Money, turned it into an infinite torture of infinite duration, also ruining the economic commentary the game was meant to make in the first place. Interesting stuff. (Unlike modern Monopoly rules.)

      • Deborah Makarios
        24 Dec 2016

        Infinite torture of infinite duration, eh? Try playing with Uncle Bryan: he ruthlessly exterminates all opposition in less time than one would imagine possible.

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