I know people out there love a winner. Everyone from George Steinbrenner to Bill Belichick to Luis (“It’s great to play for a wiener”) Tiant has lauded the benefits of a championship. Look at the New York Yankees whose whole tradition is based on winning, so much so that losing even a game breaks their fans’ hearts and brings grown men to tears. Why – because the Yankees are always supposed to win. That is why being a New York Mets fan is infinitely easier and more fun: we were born from losing. We don’t cry when we lose, but if we win we’re happy. Life is much simpler that way.
So recently when my daughter’s soccer team earned a spot in a CYO championship game, I was wondering about how much she wanted to win. She craved the trophy, desired the acclaim, and most definitely wanted the special jacket that the winning team is granted. Winning that game meant so much to her, but as I heard her speaking about it I felt that it meant almost too much to her.
Yes, winning is great, but aren’t we all too engineered to want to win? I am thinking about when my kids were little and my Mom would say (as my daughter and I played a game of checkers), “Oh, let her win.” Of course, I did exactly that. I let my daughter win in checkers, Monopoly, dominoes, and all the rest. As my son got older I did the same with him, but I realized something one day when my father turned the tables. My daughter lost to him in checkers. Dad turned to me and said, “It’s time to start letting her understand the real world.”
My father always had wisdom in everything, but this hit me like a sucker punch. He was absolutely right. He had never let me win at any game; in fact, he said he played harder against me because I was his son. I recall him telling me, “I’m doing you no favor to let you win.” So after humoring my children all those years, he got tough with them. Losing that game of checkers was a little slap in the face to my daughter, but it was actually a great lesson. She learned that game and others more deeply once she knew that she could lose. My father had given her (and me) a great gift.
On the evening before the championship game my daughter and I were sitting and talking. She asked me if I thought her team was good enough to win. I said that they were because they got to a championship game, and that is pretty amazing. I explained that all the years I played sports – little league through college and then men’s softball – I had never been in a championship game. My teams never even made it to the playoffs. I said that people dream of it but rarely get it, and that it was a gift to even be one of two teams on the pitch that day.
The next day most of her aunts and uncles and cousins and her brother, mother, and I were there. All the girls’ families from both teams crowded the sides of the field. The match was a difficult one, but a penalty kick against my daughter’s team turned the tide (making a 2-1 game a 3-1 game), and they lost steam afterwards and the game ended with a loss. The girls’ faces showed all the emotion you can imagine, but afterwards the teams came together for a group photo – the two best teams in the league.
Later that day my daughter and I were talking. She said, “You know, now they have to defend that championship next year.” I agreed and said it would be hard from them to repeat, but her team would even be better and in a position to win it all.
“You’re not upset I lost, Dad?” she asked.
I laughed. “Hey, I am a Mets fan, right?”
She laughed too, and we had an ice cream and all was right with the world. Oh, and she did get a trophy (a second place one) that sits on her shelf with all her other swimming, gymnastics, and piano trophies. She came home with something more though, a way to see the world in a realistic way.
We don’t always win. Some of us can say that we never have. I play Lotto every week, so I get a hard lesson, but I keep playing. A solid Major League Baseball player hits .300, and that means he is getting out seven out of every ten at bats. Yes, he is losing more than he is winning, but he is not a loser. No one can expect to hit 1000, and we have to understand that as we move through life.
My daughter will have a happy summer now. She will be on the swimming team and each race will be win or lose situation, but she understands that. We have been there before. The more you lose the better you appreciate what it takes to win, and that means hopefully when you do win that you will remember where you came from and treat the losing team well.
Being a good winner is always easy, but being a good loser builds character and makes you stronger. After the game that day all the girls on my daughter’s team shook hands with members of the winning team. They understood on this day and on this field these girls were better than they were, and they deserved to be congratulated.They walked off the pitch with smiles on their faces. I know that they have learned something valuable that will help them for the rest of their lives: They had lost but every one of them were winners!
Photo credits: team-victor lana; trophy-trophy.net