Friday, December 30, 2011

Winning is rad: June 8, 2008

Confession: I'm not very competitive. I've never played team sports and I've never cared much whether other people were beating me at stuff or not. It just doesn't mean anything to me. In everything from athletics to my career, I set goals and I work toward them and I obliterate them. Then I set more goals. What other people are doing never enters the equation.

So I was completely clueless about team-based beating and winning and losing and stuff like that when we embarked on our journey as the parents of a Little League baseball player. I learned a lot. Mostly that winning is rad.

You win some, you lose some (or not)
    I have learned a lot in life by losing.

    I know what it feels like to be picked last for kickball. I have been on the receiving end of lousy report cards. I have competed at my very best in horse shows where I won absolutely nothing. I have had bosses who didn’t like me, written articles that contained errors, invested years in relationships that didn’t work out.

    We all lose sometimes. We learn from losing. We grow.


    “What does ‘builds character’ mean?” my 8-year-old son, Jack, asked me recently.

    I pondered this for a moment. I knew why he was asking. The answer was important.

    “It means that something bad happening makes you stronger once you get over feeling bad about it,” I said. “It means you learn from living through things that are tough to experience. It makes you a better person. Does that make sense?”

    Jack leveled his blue, blue eyes at me. “No,” he said.

    This conversation occurred about halfway through May, when my son’s Little League baseball team was on a fairy-tale winning streak. Ten games into the season, not one loss.

    When my son decided on a whim to give Little League a shot this season, after years of saying he’d rather just play baseball in the yard with his dad, I worried a little.

    “What if he’s on some lame-o team that never wins, and he hates it?” I asked my husband (because there is no situation where I cannot find a crisis.) “What if he’s totally demoralized, and it ruins baseball for him?”

Jack, far left, contemplates the horizon. That's my boy.
    My husband just shrugged (because that’s what you have to do to survive being married to me). “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll just wait and see.”

    So we embarked on our first Little League season. And, as is customary most every time I make a dire prediction, I ate my words. The team is amazing. The coach is phenomenal. The kids are all talented and good-natured. The parents are the nicest lot you’d ever want to meet. We love Little League. And our team just kept winning.

    Which you would think is a good thing. But somewhere around game seven I started to worry. The stakes were getting high. The team was getting known league-wide as the one to beat. Every other team was gunning for them.

    At one point, even the coach felt the need to let his boys know that there is no shame in a loss. He sent out an e-mail to all the team families reminding them that even the great Ted Williams hit the ball only four out of 10 at-bats.

    I read Jack that e-mail. I don’t really know if he was listening.

    “I sure hope we win tomorrow,” he said one night as he got ready for bed.

    I seized the moment. “It’s really not a big deal at all if you lose,” I said. “As long as you have fun and do your best. Besides, losing builds character.”

    Which, as we’ve already established, Jack did not buy.

    “I know it’s OK to lose,” he said. “But it’s better to win.”

    I couldn’t think of a good response to that.

    At the game the next night, Jack’s team not only won, they won after one of their strongest hitters slammed the ball clear over the outfield fence, driving in three runs and sending all of us into an absolute tizzy. It was really cool.

    The next morning, I related the story of the dramatic game to a good friend as we slogged through our 5 a.m. workout.

    “It was awesome,” I said, “but I’m worried they’ll never lose a game, and Jack won’t really understand that winning isn’t everything.”

    My friend rolled her eyes (because that’s what you have to do to survive being friends with me).

    “Mary, didn’t you always want to be that kid whose team always won?” she said. “Did you ever get to be that kid? I was never that kid, and I always wanted to be that kid.”

    If we were cartoon characters, a light bulb would have appeared over my head at that moment.

    My friend is right. I was never that kid. I always wanted to be that kid. And there is absolutely nothing better than seeing your kid get to be that kid.

    My son’s team finished the season undefeated and is heading into the league playoffs in the top spot.

    I hope they crush everyone in sight. They can build character next year.
Jack and Jim, the day the team had their only loss of the
season -- the playoff.  He clearly doesn't care. That's my boy.

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