“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” I can imagine being torn to shreds for posting such a comment, but take it easy, it wasn’t me! That’s a quote from legendary NFL coach, Vince Lombardi.
Truly, though, it’s a posture I’ve developed through four decades of competing in life. I hate to lose. I hate it. In fact, losing feels ten times worse to me than winning feels good. I’ve learned to be a gracious loser (on the outside). I believe in congratulating the winners and even smiling, because hey – if they beat ME, they did something pretty amazing! But on the inside I’m spewing like a volcano. Always.
Competition is a given in life. We’re all going to compete for something whether its a ballgame, a board game, a job, a promotion, an investment, a deal, a mate, or just a parking space. And we’re ALL going to lose. A lot.
The thing about defeat is that we learn three-times more by losing than we do from winning. As long as we’re open to it, that is.
When I was a Cub Scout, my Pinewood Derby car was insane. Yes, my father built it for me, but that’s a blog post for another time. I went all the way to the finals at the competition and was a shoe-in for the trophy (which would be my first, ever). The trophy sat there on the stand, just waiting to come and live in my bedroom. I already had the spot picked out.
On my way to the starting block, a kid smacked the back of my elbow and my car fell to the ground where the front wheel snapped off. We managed to put it back on, but my beautiful gold-and-black racer wobbled to a second-place finish. I’ll NEVER forget the feeling of watching that other kid take my trophy. I got a stupid ribbon.
I quit the Cub Scouts that year but I’d go on to collect dozens of trophies throughout my lifetime. I still have them. Every one of them represents winning either a special award, a sports championship, a contest, or a promotion. Funny thing is, my two daughters have a huge collection of trophies also, but they don’t cherish them like I do. In fact theirs are scattered about in drawers, closets, and boxes. As I took mental inventory of them the other day, I realized that they’re almost all for participation. They have trophies and ribbons and certificates just for being there. And they’re almost meaningless.
My 8-year-old plays lacrosse now and is a beginner. It’s a joy to watch her out there as she learns the game and gets a little better each time. I try to make her understand that you have to be bad before you can be good, and you have to be good before you can be great. We’re working our way through the “bad” phase, but we’re progressing! Strange thing is, her team only won one game this season, and nobody’s upset after the game. Nobody cares.
Is this good coaching or bad coaching? I understand its only 3rd and 4th grade girls lacrosse. The goal is to have fun and help the kids develop a love of the game. Right? I guess you can make an argument either way, but that’s not how I grew up!
I have a daily affirmation, “Tommy Always Wins.” Its even my email address. I say it a lot, but in real life its only true a fraction of the time. But I focus on winning every day and have learned to glean wisdom from defeat. I don’t cherish the defeats (we’ve established that). But I accept them and I cherish the wisdom derived from them.
Life is a learning process. I believe that part of the problem in today’s society is that nobody’s accountable. Everybody thinks, “oh well, everything will be okay.” There’s an entitlement attitude that “somebody will take care of me.” Oh well, la-dee-da . . .
It starts with innocent and ready-to-be-molded children, develops into “entitled” teenagers, and then festers into slothful adults.
If we’re teaching our youth to simply be “participants” in life, we’re doing them a huge disservice. Life is about competing. Life is about striving to win. Life is about not accepting defeat, but learning from it and doing better next time because of it. Hey parents, your kids are losers and so are you. (And so am I).
Whatcha gonna do about it?
I’d say, start now!
By the way, that kid who knocked the Pinewood Derby car out of my hand went home with a black eye!