Growing up around sports, I observed coaches who shared a similar coaching philosophy: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Popular culture embraces this philosophy. In the movie “Talladega Nights,” the lead character, Ricky Bobby, lives by the phrase, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
You can learn a lot more about a team and about yourself by losing.
Losing sucks. There’s no way around it but everyone experiences it. I was 5 years old when I signed up to play t-ball in Tyler. My dad was the coach of our team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was lucky because my dad tried to play everyone the same amount of time and no matter what happened never got angry. During a game one of our player’s dads got upset because our team wasn’t winning. My dad explained that he was trying to teach us the game and that winning shouldn’t be important because we were so young. At the time I didn’t understand why losing was bad or what was wrong with it. It wasn’t until I was older that I finally got what my dad meant.
Winning seems to be glorified in every aspect but it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. The media never shows you the downside to winning. They never show you players who used steroids to enhance their performances like Mark McGwire or players who cheat to make sure a team wins, like Pete Rose or the Chicago Black Sox. Winning is the icing on the cake to many Cinderella stories. It may provide the titles and championships but losing provides the character and life lessons.
When I was 14, I joined a softball tournament team in Bullard. We practiced really hard and competed in tournaments almost every weekend. We got accustomed to winning and eventually it didn’t seem like a big deal. One weekend, we went to a tournament in Fort Worth. On the first day, we won all of our games. However, we lost our first game the second day, which knocked us into the loser’s bracket. That tournament was absolutely miserable. The heat index was 107 degrees and we were all getting sunburned no matter how much sunscreen we put on. The rubber spikes on our pitcher’s cleats even started to melt. We had to play six games back to back to get to the championship game. We were exhausted but fought through the pain and won first place. That win meant more than any other game we had played. We had to fight through pain and disappointment but were able to dig deep and persevere.
Losing instills drive and determination. It’s a “never give up” attitude where anything is possible. I love reading about teams who have come-from-behind victories or had a losing record and turned it around by the end of the season. One of those moments was in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. Up to that point, the franchise hadn’t been able to clench the title for over 100 years.
I think it’s also more fun to watch the underdog win than the team that wins year after year. The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to win. They’ve won multiple championships, but would you rather watch the Lakers win another game or watch a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are in the middle of a disappointing season, snap a losing streak and play with heart.
It seems that winning can take away from the game itself. Players become so involved in winning all the time that they forget why they started playing in the first place. By remembering the passion and love for the game, athletes can stay grounded and not let egos get in the way of playing the sport they love.