Lessons in Losing ~ Jen

The Nightmare Ninjas
The Nightmare Ninjas

It was Gabe’s first championship game. And his team lost 2-1 in overtime.

I’m a mom so I’m only going to say we might have been robbed, and I’m only going to say it to you. The ref did a horrible job of keeping time, and a full minute past when our timers said the game should have ended, the other team scored to tie the game. Then we lost in OT on a direct kick after a dodgy handball call, and had a tying goal called back on a dodgy offsides call.

Instead of the Lessons In Winning post that I wanted to write, I get to write this.

So here goes. In my career as an athlete, I lost way more than I won. I lost a championship soccer game, just a few years after I played on a team that only won one game. I watched from the bench with a cast on my ankle while my team threw away a CIF championship game in high school. I’m the one who got roofed for the final point in a 5 game match against Notre Dame to lose a tournament in college.

Shea remembers losing. Dana remembers losing, usually loudly whenever someone says “Stanford”. My brothers can remember games they lost. I think the moments we failed are imprinted on our hearts even more than the moments we succeeded. Now at age 7, Gabe has one really big hurtful loss under his belt.

I can hear the helicopter moms wailing in the blogosphere: “RIGHT! WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO DO THAT TO THEIR BAAAAABYYYY???!!!”

This is why: failure keeps us humble and humility is the key to a successful life as an adult. Sometimes you do your best and it isn’t enough. That’s truth. The boys learned that lesson yesterday without anyone humiliating them, which is how it often happens to kids who have been protected from failure by their parents.

Gabe cried at the end of the game and I’m glad he did. He won’t forget what that felt like, and hopefully it will feed his intrinsic drive to improve. He’ll handle life better if he learns that sometimes you climb to the top of the mountain and find out someone got there first—it doesn’t change that you climbed the mountain. Before they went to shake hands, coach grabbed his shoulder and said “Hey, we don’t show them that”. I’m glad for this too. Gabe needs to know there’s pride in leaving it all out on the field, even if you lose.

As for the refs—the kids need to learn that refs are part of the game. I thank God for the assistant coach in college who told me that and I taught my teams the same thing. Refs don’t always get it right and sometimes that feels unfair. In adult life there are people like refs, who don’t always get it right either. I want Gabe to learn that we can either get stuck on the things we can’t control and be angry and bitter, or control the things we can with confidence and faith.

Yesterday was hard for all of us. Gabe shook it off faster than we did, with the happy go lucky resilience of a 7 year old wearing a shiny medal. Shea and I got a taste of what it’s like to hug the sweaty, sobbing, disappointed loser.

I didn’t like it.

But Shea and I weren’t going to take that hurt away with empty words like “It doesn’t matter who wins” or “It was the ref’s fault”. It was a big deal to him that they lost, so we stood in that space with him and felt it too.

We can’t save him from learning what it feels like to lose—we can only deflect it for another day. Which we aren’t going to do because the lessons are far too important for later in life.

So we lose. And we hurt. And we learn.

7 thoughts on “Lessons in Losing ~ Jen

  1. Jen,
    As our boys were growing up, especially when they began playing competitive soccer, as a family we had to all learn the value of the underlying principle of the bigger picture. Many times when we thought we should have won, there were circumstances that delivered the game to the other team. In the bigger picture, we focused on teaching them a way to handle winning and losing: “Win with Honor, Lose with Dignity”. We saw a lot of parents and players who couldn’t really handle winning OR losing. Our boys lost some big games, especially when they got a little older and played at a higher level. When you lose, it hurts – a lot. However, when all is said and done, you come off the field and the game is over. We always enjoyed that our boys could “go back to being kids” after a little while. When you lose, buy ’em pizza. When you win, everybody gets ice cream. Whatever. Just enjoy the journey. Helping them find balance is worth the effort. After all, isn’t that why we’re parents?

  2. That rots. And when the bad calls are taken in stride and the good calls are taken in stride, too, we learn we’ve taught them well. And this: “we can either get stuck on the things we can’t control and be angry and bitter, or control the things we can with confidence and faith.” – brilliant! Exactly what I hope both of my kidlets come out into the adult world with a good sense of. LOVED this post, Jen!

  3. Probably one of the best things I have read in a long time. So many life lessons in sports. I recently read a study looking at what characteristics make the best physicians … athletes and musicians. They are coachable, humble and able to bounce back from adversity. They also certainly had their dose of disappointment. It helps to have great coaches too.

  4. Love it, Jen. Another honest article from my favorite sister blog. As sports are intertwined in your life, I knew a meaningful article about it was coming.

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