I played a lot of baseball when I was a kid. For years it was my favorite sport, both as a player and as a spectator. My first hero was Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. If you wanted me to do something for you the best way to ensure my agreement was to attach baseball to it in some manner. I loved baseball.
But baseball didn’t always love me. The game we played was different in a couple of ways than baseball as it’s played today. The first difference is a matter of age: there was no such thing as T-ball or any other type of development leagues. You started playing at age seven and that was that. The other difference was even more significant: there was no ten-run rule. We played a full nine innings no matter what the final score was. It made for some brutal losses as our team was not very good. We lost every game of our first two seasons but one, often by extremely discouraging one-sided scores.
I didn’t mind losing as much as I minded the post-game handshake. It seemed that most of the other teams really enjoyed beating us, and it showed in their mocking remarks during that handshake time. I remember one time that our coach simply pulled us off the field after one pretty bad loss because of the attitudes of the coaches and kids on the other team. The other thing that really bothered me was my dad. He had no tolerance for losing and he was always quick to let me know that I was failing him with every loss. I have no memory of him ever being encouraging or congratulating me on those rare occasions that I did something right. I eventually quit playing baseball mostly because of my dad.
The single bright spot of those first two seasons was my coach. Coach Katrosh was a wise and gentle man who understood that he was molding us into something far more important than a baseball team. He stressed to us the importance of giving our best effort and accepting that things would not always go the way we wanted. He insisted that we learn to lose with our heads held high, having given our best effort. Excuses were not accepted and we were expected to act like gentlemen regardless of how the game turned out. I learned a lot more about losing than winning in all those years I played baseball, but especially those first two seasons.
I have always tried to stress to my kids that learning how to lose was far more important that winning. We may remember the wins, but we will be more remembered for our reaction to the losses. This idea seems especially poignant to me in the aftermath of this most recent election season. I believe that losing is a great teacher because our lives will seldom go according to the plans we have laid out for ourselves. Winning creates hubris, an extremely dangerous form of pride that is incapable of recognizing one’s own shortcomings. Losing serves as an anchor, a reminder that we are not all that we might think our selves to be, that it takes work and commitment and dedication to win – and that sometimes even that is not enough.
My parent’s favorite sport was wrestling. I have vivid memories of watching my parents (and I) watching professional wrestling on TV. My parents hated one wrestler in particular, Fritz Von Erich. Once, during a particularly tense match, one of my parents got so angry with Fritz that they threw a shoe into the TV. Needless to say, I didn’t get to watch cartoons for a few Saturdays after that. My parents didn’t seem to take losing too well.
Why bring up those stories? My parents and Coach Katrosh set the examples that taught me how to deal with winning and losing. I learned from them, and many others, that being a good loser takes much more strength, character and patience than winning requires. Lest you think that I don’t care to win let me assure you that I love to win. Just ask any of my kids or the teams that I’ve coached or helped coach through the years.
Just as all those coaches and other adults modeled for me examples of both the good and bad way to handle losing, I have modeled for my kids and others how to respond to both winning and losing. We need to show, not just tell, our kids that effort and dedication and determination are the valuable life lessons, the things that will carry them far beyond the memories of a few wins here and there.
But how do we do it? How do we teach our kids how to lose with grace?
Play hard...and fair. Why is it that our society has come to celebrate pushing the limits? One famous NASCAR driver once said that if you weren’t cheating you weren’t trying to win. We need to demonstrate to our kids a respect for the rules.
Learn to praise...honestly. One of the reasons I don’t coach kid sports any longer is that more and more parents are interjecting themselves into games and practices simply to promote their kids to a level beyond their ability. There is nothing wrong with being proud of a child’s accomplishments...but keep it in perspective. Not everyone can be the captain of the team or the superstar. If your child is trying their best and having a good time be happy with that.
Keep it all in perspective. Nobody will ever give you a job because you scored a touchdown in a backyard football game or because you set a scoring record for your favorite video game. Education has always been and will always be more important than athletics. God is not going to tell anyone what their turnover to assist ratio was not good enough to get them into heaven. We need to hold sports success in proper perspective...it’s good training but not a guarantee of future success in any endeavor.
Have fun! Life is hard enough by itself...Learn to laugh and always have the ability to laugh at others mistakes as well as your own (Ask me sometime about a particular game of Clue with my kids). Play is supposed to be enjoyable and when you can’t laugh and have a good time it may be time to give it up.
Thanks Coach Katrosh for teaching me that. I hope I have passed it down to my kids as well as you passed it on to me.