Losing sucks. What happened to the “undo” button?

By any name and in any form, losing is a drag. Our family experienced this yesterday, when my son’s water polo team lost a playoff match to a lower-seeded team — an opponent that, on another day, they probably would have defeated handily. Post-game analysis of why they lost might be useful to the younger players, but to the seniors, not so much. It was their last game together as varsity water polo teammates from their high school. This was not how they wanted to go out.

 

not loser sign - losing

 

Whether it’s a water polo playoff, a USTA match, or Nadal losing to the 100th-ranked Rosol at Wimbledon, losing never feels good — especially losing a match you know you should have won. My husband remarked to me on the way home, “I just wish we could rewind it.” I agreed. I woke up this morning thinking, if only they were playing the match today. But they aren’t. It’s over.

And that’s how losing goes. Sometimes we lose because of factors within our control. And the consequences for losing can be much greater than the outcome of a sports game. Which one of us hasn’t regretted something we said, something we did, a choice we made? And what if the stakes for our decisions were high — say, the loss of a friendship, a business deal, maybe even a marriage?

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What does carne asada have to do with team building?

Yesterday I hosted the last team dinner I’ll ever get to host. My son’s water polo team gathered at our home prior to a tournament they’re playing this weekend.

Two other moms helped me, and we served the boys mounds of carne asada, hot tortillas, enchiladas, Spanish rice and salad. As if that weren’t enough food, we also offered chocolate milk (great after a workout, you know), fruit, homemade cookies and brownies.

water+polo+Team+dinner

 

For years I’ve hosted end-of-season parties, supervised team sleepovers and served dinner to players and families after Little League games. But last night was the end. The end of orchestrating a large dinner to be ready precisely on time, of serving it efficiently, making it look easy. The end of sharing a gift with my children’s teams  —  not by playing or coaching their sports, but by doing something I’m good at: food and hospitality.

I’ll still find people to cook for, still find ways to build community over shared meals. It just won’t involve my kids as much. And since none of them is playing varsity sports in college, it definitely won’t involve their teams.

Maybe that’s why this final team dinner seemed so significant. Sports have been important to my children, but not because they dreamed of playing professionally, or even playing in college. They took their sports commitments seriously, valuing not only personal improvement, but also their teams’ collective achievement. They learned “life lessons” about things like persistence, fairness and sportsmanship that will stay with them far beyond the court, the field, or the pool.

 

Menlo School boys water polo. Photo by Cynthia Yock.

Photo by Cynthia Yock

 

I’m grateful for the role sports have played in my children’s lives, grateful for remarkable individuals who’ve coached them over the years. Needless to say, I’m less grateful for the handful of negative coaches who made my kids’ lives difficult or soured them on a particular sport or season. But even then, playing for such coaches helped my kids develop the ability to discern when they were wrong, vs. when their coach was being unreasonable. Without a doubt, this is a skill they’ll use in “real life.”

Cooking for my children’s teams, or organizing schedules and communications for them, was a way I could contribute to activities they cared about. My son’s a senior, playing in his final water polo season, so I’m nearly finished with these contributions to my kids’ sports. Yes, I most likely will contribute elsewhere in the future. But all the same, an emptiness lingers.   [Read more…]