Lessons in Losing

Updated: Feb 4

Duncan playing lacrosse for his high school

As kids, we’ve all done it. We’ve dreamed of sports greatness; shooting the winning three-pointer with time expiring, crushing the ninth inning grand slam to win the game, or scoring the last second goal as the horn sounds.

Walk through any park in the spring and you will hear kids on fields yelling “He shoots, he scores!” or during recess on basketball courts you will hear “Three, two, one,” as a basketball follows its rainbow trajectory into a basket and the kids on the court erupt in celebration.

Recently at a driving range with my two oldest sons, I found myself kidding and saying softly in my best golf commentator voice, “If the young Spaniard can get enough club behind that ball on this hole, no doubt he will be raising that cup at the club house and donning the green jacket.”

A few years ago, my oldest son faced a lacrosse team that was comprised mostly of kids who are his former teammates. They are still friends connected through a love for the game of lacrosse. In the first half of the game, my son’s new team (which he joined because we moved to another part of town) was winning and up by four points. I watched until halftime, but I left the game with my other three kids to get them home since it was a school night. My wife sent me text updates.

Then, the other team started to fight its way back. As the text messages from my wife trickled in the points continued to accumulate until eventually my son’s opponents took the lead. Time continued to tick away second by second and then with 20 seconds left, my son’s team, down by one point, took a time out.

My son isn’t a flashy kid. He doesn’t need a lot of adulation after scoring, and he doesn’t celebrate a whole lot other than the standard fist bump or high five with a teammate. Win or lose, he is even keeled at the end of a game. He’s steady, composed and when my wife told me he was being given the ball with 20 seconds left, as a coach, I suspected what was about to happen.

When the referee blew the whistle the players on both teams went in motion and my son charged at his defender and with each step seconds clicked off the clock. With five seconds left, he shot a bullet at the goalie’s feet and it ricocheted off the goalie as the clock ran down, and the game was over.

He missed.

I was in the kitchen when he came in through the back door. I saw him and came up to him, as I do after every game and I hugged him. “How’d it go?” I asked, although I already knew.

My son has been taught that losing a game is hard, but it isn’t the end of the world. He’s always taken it in stride and has always lost with grace, focusing more on the fact that he gets to play and spend time bonding in brotherhood in a sport he has grown to adore.

As he muttered his explanation of what had happened his chestnut colored 13-year-old eyes welled up. Knowing my son as I do, I knew that his tears weren’t about losing this game, it was more about the fact that he thought he had let his teammates down. His coach, his teammates, the fans, were all looking to him to make things right, he felt, and he hadn’t delivered. His team hadn’t won a game all season and now, facing one of the best teams in the city, they had a chance to show their gumption, and all of that momentary hope escaped as the ball bounced off of the goalie and the fans and the sidelines let out a collective groan. All of that weight, all of that pressure was placed on the shoulders of my eighth grade son and he missed the shot. Now what he was carrying was guilt.

And while I do not know this for sure, I’m certain his coach called his number because he felt he could handle it. He knew, I surmised, that Duncan would be able to carry the pressure of that shot on his shoulders and be able to deal with the aftermath, no matter the outcome.

“He called your number and that’s something you should be proud of,” I told him. My son has always been taught that a lack of success does not mean failure. When a person stops trying, then they fail, but usually the home run leaders are also the strike out kings and that’s because they keep swinging.

“Your coach put this heavy privilege on you because like me, he believes in you,” I told him. I’m certain the coach had his reasons for calling Duncan’s number. Truthfully, it might not be for the many romantic reasons I’m assuming, but the truth is that he is steady, consistent and true with his stick. I was proud of the fact that a coach called on him to make a game changing difference and I was proud that when there was heavy responsibility to be shouldered, that he strapped it across himself and carried it like a man. He didn’t cower from it, but instead took it head on. There will be other games like this, other shots, and he has to keep trying. He gave me a tight hug, complete with manly back pats and then went upstairs to clean up.

Our kids should not be defined by the shots they make, but rather by the shots they take. Success is attained when they’ve reached a stage where they are called upon to carry a heavy load and then in the aftermath how they carry that success or lack of success.

For Duncan, hours after his missed shot, he ate his weight in chicken parmigiana sandwiches, showered and listened to his younger brother, Cannon, talk about his first lacrosse goal which had happened earlier that day.

Cannon had taken a lot of shots that day, determined to get his first goal as a bantam player and after many, many attempts, he finally got one in the net.

Duncan told him “good job buddy” and praised him for not giving up even though many of his shots were misses.

He shoots. He scores.

THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED ON FATHERLY IN JANUARY 2019: https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/lacrosse-and-helping-kids-cope-with-losing/

©2020 by Steve Alvarez, Burb Dad.