I’ve never been a real athlete but I watch my share of sporting events. Other than March Madness, these events surely include someone I know and love. Moving as a spectator from track meets to lacrosse to baseball to football to crew to basketball to soccer to golf and back again gives me an opportunity to observe my own reactions to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Nowadays it’s harder for me to get too wrapped up in winning. I had my years of butterfly stomach and chest bursting with pride. Now I have a different perspective.
Maybe winning a bit more important in childhood. It gives a child a sense of mastery to have opportunities to succeed, individually or as a team member. But it comes back to that age-old question. What is success?
Shouldn’t winning somehow be commensurate with doing one’s best? Shouldn’t having the courage to participate be a win? Can a participant ever be happy with their own performance? Or will the memory of each mistake far outlast the glory of a play well-done?
I’ve reached a few conclusions in my many years as a spectator.
1. Close matches are the best – especially if your team wins.
2. Tears over defeat are finite for most personalities if the focus can be redirected to personal successes on the field.
3. Some people are going to live for decades with their losses. For them it is a grief that persists.
For the last few years I have watched one grandson play lacrosse on a variety of teams. He’s talented and he loves to win. This year has been a struggle because he is on a newly formed team that is learning to be a team. But within an hour or so of grumping and harrumphing after a loss, he has usually rationalized his way to focusing on his good moves.
A granddaughter in crew has gained great confidence from winning medals through the past two years. A ribbon for first is a spectacular. A ribbon for third takes the same space in her room and seemingly in her heart. Maybe these medals represent her achievements in a concrete way. She can see them and touch them and hold on to her feelings of success. And although we always discourage comparisons, it doesn’t hurt to have one’s own medal in a home where a brother presides much of the time with stories of his athletic conquests.
A month ago I watched my grandson run a really poor race in a track meet. Bummed? He was bummed. He knew that he hadn’t run well and hated it. By the next day when I talked with him he was resigned. Not every race can be great. Not every day is our best day.
Last fall when he played his first year of high school football in a league where his team was spectacularly outclassed he was less philosophic. He is acknowledged by all of the fans as talented – the team hero. But he is used to that heroism leading to team wins not personal injuries. In the past he had played on teams where the coaching brought out the best in a sometimes ragtag group of boys. This was a new experience. But he will probably do the same thing this fall.
Grace…I pray for him. Grace to keep believing in himself without arrogance and disdain. Grace to be supportive and helpful to his teammates. And grace…to keep him safe on field that is not level in size, skill, and training.
Last summer I watched an older grandson and his team go all the way to the World Series in American Legion baseball. I was in awe of the poise and grace of he and his entire team throughout the season. They were supportive of each other, respected their coaching staff, and had gratitude for their fans.
All of these attributes persisted throughout the losing game. I didn’t see anyone snipe at a teammate or slam a bat into the dugout. Heads were hanging and tears welled at the loss but the team members mustered their courage and congratulated their opponents and accepted the accolades due them for advancing so far in the final tournament.
All of this is practice for life. It is understanding that someone must lose if someone else wins. It’s understanding that one can have personal victories within team losses and personal struggles in winning programs.
Maybe, too, it is learning to do one’s best in adversity and to be gracious when one is flying high. And that sometimes one’s best is good enough and sometimes it doesn’t work out so well except in the satisfaction of having done just that.
Hopefully, it will be remembering the high of team spirit and cooperation and learning to play at life with camaraderie and an eye to best results for those in the game rather than looking to win.
My greatest wish for my loved ones is for them to remember that they may be admired and feted for their skills and success (in contests and in life), but they don’t have to win to be worthy of love. Watching from the sidelines, I am a fan of each and every one for who exactly who they are – without regard to their performance.