Taking A Loss With Grace
Winning graciously is one of the greatest lessons learned in the showring. We have the conversation around our barn often that it isn’t always what you say but how you say it. When you come out of the ring you have the premier opportunity to display your modesty and dignity.
Recently, I’ve come to realize that the tougher lesson is when an exhibitor is typically at the front of the line and suddenly goes to the back. In the last couple of weeks I’ve experienced this as an ag teacher and also as a judge.
Ideally, I want my students to internalize the feelings of anger and frustration during this situation, however, the need to create an explanation is human nature. Creating sense of what just happened is what makes stock shows exciting and engaging. That’s why talking reasons on a class has become an expected part of the judging process.
Where the problem occurs is when we as adults forget what to say. We forget that we are constantly modeling how to act for these students, even in dealing with defeat. Having a response to the show isn’t the problem, it is the type of response we choose to have.
I’ve witnessed parents, ag teachers and 4-H leaders criticize judges on their ability, appearance, personality,and any other weakness they can prey on. This is uncomfortable to watch. It is uncomfortable for other parents and leaders in the area and more importantly it makes it difficult for the exhibitor to illustrate their modesty and dignity.
Here are five things you can say instead of criticizing the judge. These words of encouragement and explanation can help a junior exhibitor develop the sportsmanship we all want to embody.
1. “(Name of Exhibitor) really had his/her heifer stuck well today!”
This response allows the student to realize that it isn’t a problem that their project was lacking but that another student had their project at its best. Variations of this statement could be, “That goat was 12 o’clock today,” or “(Exhibitor) was driving that hog like a Cadillac.” Essentially any excessive complement about the animal that won. As a judge, I often use the phrase, “This animal can stand a lot of competition” to describe an animal that may be at the end of the line but isn’t necessarily in need of a lot of improvement. The key here is to help the exhibitor find a way to understand that the animal in the winners circle was presented well and looking their best.
2. “The judge saw something I didn’t.”
Honesty is always the best policy. It shows a great amount of humility to admit that the judge had a different view and ability to evaluate the animals in the ring. Showing livestock is all about angles and perspective. It is important that students understand that the view point the judge has is the only viewpoint that matters that day. The ability to acknowledge you may not have the whole picture is honorable and your exhibitor will recognize that.
3. "Getting your hands on those animals would tell the whole story.”
A large part of adequately evaluating market animals comes from the feel the judge gets. If you don’t put your hands on each of the animals there is no way to get all the information the judge had. When students understand this thought process, it will even help them begin to evaluate livestock on their own. When a student begins to see the evaluation process as an investigation and balance of evidence, their skill grows. Using this phrase during a confusing time like this can be the beginning of a new learning in the livestock production process.
4. "One person’s preference.”
This one raises the hair on the back of my neck. Livestock evaluation is the intersection of science and business. Evaluation is not all free choice. There are tough calls that must be made and trade offs that must be compromised, and this is where preference comes into play. To teach our students that it is all preference is a disservice to the decades of education, research and practice that has been made by our community. However, when an exhibitor comes out of the ring and it is difficult to reach a conclusion on how the class was placed, even after listening to the reasons, this one is comforting. Make sure though that you spend time explaining to that exhibitor what it means. If livestock evaluation truly becomes personal preference we are wasting our time, but if preference makes up the difference during those tradeoffs, then it is what keeps this lifestyle exciting.
5. “Let’s sit down in the barn and talk about today.”
If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. This will give you time to prepare to talk to your exhibitor. Sometimes things happen in the show ring that in fact have no explanation. Judges are people and they can make a mistake. If there truly is no explanation, wait until you are in the comfort and seclusion of your own barn and talk through how the show went. During this conversation, it is important to discuss some of the points in statement 4 and reassure the exhibitor that next time they hit the road, it's a new event.
No matter what phrase you use to comfort your exhibitor and model the dignity it takes to lose, as a leader you should feel a sense of pride in being the one that the youth look to for how to handle situations. You should feel the honor in being the one that young person will think of 25 years down the road when something doesn’t go his way. These days on the outside of the showring set you up to the be the one that changes this young person's life. And that, is much more important than making a joke about the judges glasses.
Win or lose, a day in the show ring is better than a day in class. As an adult leader, make modeling strong character your number one priority on show day so that your young people will grow into gracious and dignified competitors.