Hunched over, hands on my knees, sweat dripping down my face and falling to the court. I look up at the scoreboard; down by 2 with 11 seconds remaining. I take the inbound’s pass and hustle up the court surveying my options. As I cross mid-court I make the pass to the right wing; 9 seconds remaining. I follow the pass and set a hard screen allowing my teammate to dribble back to the left and down to the free throw line; 7 seconds remaining. He gets cut off at the free throw line and I instinctively step back behind the 3-point line and call for the ball; 5 seconds remaining. The pivot provides space, the pass is on target, the ball reaches my hands; 3 seconds remaining. My feet are set, I’m on my toes; I was ready for this moment before the pass was even made. I rise into the air, my form is good, the release feels natural; 2, 1….the ball bounces off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounds. We lose.
It is a fact that not every story has a perfect ending, especially in sports or any other form of competition for that matter. The reality of competition is, when someone wins, someone else loses. Losing sucks, I am not a fan. It really doesn’t matter what the competition is, if I am in it, I am in it to WIN it. That competitive spirit was recently unleashed again during a random and overall meaningless competition between my wife and I last weekend. Now, don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun with it and ultimately, if I am going to lose, there is nobody who I would want to lose to more than my own wife. The competition started as just a funny idea but over the weekend, turned into a legitimate competition. A competition which, much like the story above, I lost. Moving on….(I’m totally over it.)
As many of you already know, I have 4 kids and I love to watch them compete. My daughter has been a swimmer and a volleyball player and my boys continue to play a variety of sports including baseball, basketball, football and soccer. Inevitably, over many years of watching them compete I have witnessed each of them experience heartbreaking losses. After these losses, as a parent, I am still extremely proud of my kids and of course I do not want to see them sad or hurting. So, I remind them that I am still proud of the job that they did, I am proud of their effort, their competitive spirit and the way that they never gave up all the way to the end. Sometimes this is well received, though more commonly it is not. There are not many true competitors who could listen to someone tell them how good they did immediately after suffering a loss. This means that our post-loss conversations are relatively brief in nature, as I would prefer to keep caged the angry beast which lives inside each of them. Once time has passed and attention has been turned to something entirely unrelated, I try to revisit these losses. Just as before, sometimes it is productive, sometimes…..well, you know. As we revisit the not so fond memory, I try to make sure they learn something from the experience. What could be improved upon? What can be controlled? I believe that every loss comes with a learning opportunity. Sometimes you really have to squint your eyes or wait for the fog to clear, but even when it is difficult to see, it is always there. This is why I believe that losses can have a huge impact on developing a strong character and a strong spirit. Figuring out how to deal with not getting what you wanted even though you tried as hard as you possibly could, is a harsh but important lesson to learn.
I believe that in today’s world we have become hypersensitive to people’s feelings and emotions. I believe that developing a deeper capability for empathy is crucial for progress to occur in our society. Where I think we are missing the mark in a lot of ways is by confusing sympathy with empathy. Instead of having empathy for our children and joining them on their journey through the valley of hurt and disappointment, we have sympathy for them, we feel pity and sorrow for them and we want to take their hurt and disappointment away. Instead of letting them own their situation and learn from the experience, we want to deflect and distract and ultimately rob them of some of their best opportunities for real growth. I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “You can learn more from a loss than you can from a win” and I believe that is a true statement. The issue is, you have to truly experience the loss for the learning to begin! I don’t think that you SHOULD get over it immediately or just let it go. I think that you should sit in it, stew in it and truly FEEL it before you move on. This is what makes great competitors, great. They know what it feels like to stew in a loss and they NEVER want to feel that way again.
The negative effects of this empathy/sympathy mix-up can be seen in many ways. My son’s elementary school now gives out the same ribbon to everyone after each event at field day, to avoid hurt feelings. There are now youth baseball leagues that don’t even keep score; yes, that’s a thing. Hell, they can’t even have “Perfect Attendance” awards anymore without adding 3 additional categories of “ALMOST Perfect Attendance” grouped together by how many days each kid has missed school! We are so afraid to let kids experience loss, that we are now watering down what it means to WIN. My fear is that if we continue on this sympathetic path, we will create a whole society of individuals who are good with being “good enough”. People won’t have to strive for greatness, work harder, practice longer because they’re gonna get the same pat on the back and the same color ribbon regardless….
I want my kids to know that their effort will be rewarded! I want them to understand that with an open mind, they will never stop learning. I want them to never settle for “good enough” when they know they could do better. I want them to strive for greatness and always go for the win. I want them to understand that a loss is an opportunity to grow, an experience to learn from and because of that, a loss is ok. But I also want them to understand that one thing a loss will never be…..is a win.
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