David Thorpe: Crying is Not Competitive

In yesterday's bullets, I quoted the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Terence Moore with a tale from Mike Conley, Sr.:

Once, when the younger Conley was 8 years old, the older Conley popped in a video of himself running the 200 meters at Arkansas. "I was the proud father showing my son how fast I used to run, and how I took second place in college against a silver medalist in the Olympic Games," recalled the older Conley. As the younger Conley watched the video, he burst into tears after the older Conley crossed the finish line. "He was crying like crazy and saying, 'You lost, Daddy. I can't believe you lost.' That tells you how competitive he's always been. You can't teach that."

ESPN's David Thorpe, who has been coaching young basketball players for close to two decades, read that story and felt compelled to comment. He sent the following email:

The word competitive means "well suited for competition." The word crybaby means someone who cries readily and for little reason. Which word best describes this particular eight year old?

As I've told parents of young players I've coached countless times, crying when they lose is not a sign of competitiveness, it's a sign of weakness. Being a competitor means that you love the challenge of competition, not that you cry if you lose. I'm sure Mike jr. does not cry now every time he loses, but does that mean he is not competitive? Only if the losing curbs his appetite for lacing them up the next time a challenge appears.

I am not at all suggesting that Mike Jr. is not competitive. He's going to be terrific. I'm not even suggesting that he wasn't competitive at age eight. I am suggesting that proof of his youthful competitiveness was not him crying while watching his dad lose a race.