I played on a lot of bad teams growing up. My first park district baseball team was part of Minneapolis’s “Cops for Kids” program. We played at the dirt field Elliot Park in the shadow of downtown, and our team was comprised mostly of kids who had never played ball before and barely knew which end of the bat to hold. That was the year I learned what the “mercy rule” meant. My High school football team won 3 games in my two years on varsity and in one memorable homecoming game managed to turn the ball over thirteen—that’s right thirteen—times. On top of all that, I have three older brothers and a rather competitive dad, so I lost and lost again.
Losing isn’t easy whether you are competitive like me or simply care deeply about what you are doing. It’s not fun despite what little league coaches try to sell. (“We’re just out here having fun. Right, kids?” Wrong, not if we’re losing all the time.) Few of us are good at losing, nor should we aspire to that. But we can learn from our losses.
All those losses taught me resilience. Disappointment, even anger, are natural after a loss, but the sooner we can regain stability the better. Resilience comes when we realize there is much more to life than the competition that was lost. It is only when we realize this that we can become well-balanced losers who are still gracious in defeat. If it seems losing ruins our life, and in return we are ruining the lives of those around us, it is time to realign our priorities.
Losing taught me to appreciate effort and competition. It is easier to stomach a loss when we know we tried our hardest, did our best, and were simply beaten by someone better. Why? Because we came to compete and that’s what we did, with everything we had. Losing doesn’t make effort a waste. It sets a bar for improvement. And, no matter how much we want to win, we can enjoy ourselves in a losing effort.
Strangely, so much losing taught me to appreciate winning and even helped me become a better winner. Becoming familiar with the loser’s circle makes us more thankful and gracious in victory. It is humbling and stands as a reminder that victories are always temporal and there is nothing to be gained by gloating. Winning is all the sweeter when it is handled graciously.
Losing is important because it’s inevitable. If we never learn to lose in small things we will be crushed by losing in the big ones, and there will be big ones. As a parent, it’s good to give our kids safe chances to compete, and thereby lose. As an adult, we can’t forget the lessons of losing we learned when we were young. Whether we like it or not, we will lose, and being able to respond with perspective and grace is a mark of maturity.