Washington’s Marcus Johansson takes a shot Monday against the New York Rangers. The Capitals won the game, giving them a lead in the playoff series. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

“Going through the battle instead of going around it.”

That has been the slogan for the Washington Capitals during this hockey season, and it must be working.

The Caps had a regular-season record of 45-26-11 (45 wins, 26 losses and 11 overtime losses), and they started the Stanley Cup playoffs by beating the New York Islanders in a tough seven-game series. Going into Wednesday night’s second-round game with the New York Rangers, the Caps led that series by two games to one.

The words are more than just a slogan for a hockey team. They are also a good thing for kids to remember.

Going through the battle instead of going around it means not trying to avoid the difficult things in life. It is better to embrace those tough situations and face them head-on.

That’s certainly true in sports, and it’s one of the reasons I think sports are so important for kids. Teams and players don’t improve just by playing easy teams or soft competition. The best teams and players like to test themselves against the best.

Last week, the Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer pitched against the first-place New York Mets and their ace right-hander, Matt Harvey. Scherzer welcomed the challenge. Harvey is “a great pitcher,” Scherzer said. “You want to face those guys. You want to beat those guys.”

Scherzer lost his matchup against Harvey. But my guess is that Scherzer will win plenty of games for the Nationals, because he enjoys pitching against the best.

Years ago, I watched young gymnasts practicing at Kelli Hill’s gym in Gaithersburg. I noticed that the girls did not spend much time practicing moves they already knew. Instead, they spent most of their time trying moves they couldn’t do. They were constantly challenging themselves.

John Wooden, the men’s basketball coach whose University of California at Los Angeles teams won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years (1964-1975), had what he called his “pyramid of success.” It was a diagram that included many personal qualities, such as ambition, honesty, integrity and reliability, that Wooden thought were essential to be successful.

Near the top of the pyramid, Wooden placed competitive greatness. Wooden said that meant the ability to “be at your best when your best is needed — real love of a hard battle.”

It’s the same outside sports. You will never be a good student if you take only easy courses. You will never be a good guitarist if you play the same three chords over and over. You have to push yourself to try new things, harder things.

You have to go through the battle instead of around it.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 20 sports books for kids. He will be speaking and signing books at the Gaithersburg Book Festival at 10:35 a.m. on May 16.


Joel Ward of the Capitals gets a close look at the puck on Monday after it was deflected by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Max Scherzer of the Nationals didn’t win last week when he pitched against the Mets, but he said he enjoyed the competition. (Adam Hunger/Associated Press)