Sometimes We Win, Sometimes We Lose

At the beginning of each sports season, teams identify their goals for the upcoming year. These goals keep them focused, working hard and on a quest to win conference titles, and ultimately state championships. Goals help prepare our students to win games…but what happens when they don’t?

With the score tied, the goalie readies himself to defend the final kick in the tie-breaker shootout. He rocks back and forth knowing that this kick will be the deciding factor. If he fails, the game is over, and his beloved team will go home. If he succeeds, they will play on with their dream still alive.

As the ball is kicked, the goalie dives to the right. The ball goes to his left and settles into the back corner of the net. Realizing that he had made the wrong choice, all that remains for the goalie is devastation. He melts to the ground, his face buried in the turf, his pain raw.

At the same time, the opposing team rushes to lift their hero into the air in celebration. Joy paints their faces with smiles and jubilant screams. With pumping fists and arms extended, they celebrate their good fortune. They will play on with the championship in their site and their state tournament dream still alive.

Watching the devastated goalie, I can see the weight of the loss consume him. He did everything he was coached to do. He faced fear and judgment head-on with both hands open. He stepped in front of the net and made decisions that would ultimately determine the outcome of his team’s hard fought battle. He accepted his challenge with great anticipation and determination. He did all of this, and still, his team will not play on.

The difference between these two teams being defined as winners or losers is contained in our culture’s narrow view of success. It is most often determined in one nano-second after hundreds of hours of dedicated preparation and hard fought battles. The outcome on the scoreboard paints the final picture—one winner and one loser. If this is the only way that a team can win, then the goalie and his team are the losers. The scoreboard clearly states this. Their season is over. What does this team that set goals and worked hard to accomplish them get when they lose and their season is over? There will be no medals, no trophy, no fire truck to escort them through town, and no championship celebration. They are the losers. Can there be more than season ending devastation for these young athletes? The answer is yes, but it is dependant on their coach and how he sees and responds to the loss.

In John Maxwell’s book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, he states, “A loss doesn’t turn into a lesson unless we work hard to make it so. Losing gives us an opportunity to learn, but many people don’t seize it. And when they don’t, losing really hurts. To become a learner from losses—you need to change the way you look at losses, cultivate qualities that help you respond to them, and develop the ability to learn from them.”

How do we as coaches take this incredible disappointment that sports presents—the loss—and get to something positive—the lesson. How do we seize the opportunity and ensure that something positive can come from losing?Lessons will be learned if we as coaches understand that there is a big difference between the goals that we set at the beginning of the season and our coaching purpose.

Joe Ehrmann summarizes the need for a concise purpose in the following quote from his book InSideOut Coaching. “Too many coaches have no clear, concise purpose other than winning and choose a path uncertain of where they will end or how their direction will affect their players. You can’t navigate a ship by studying the wind and the waves alone—you have to set your sights on a port, a light-house, some WHY—the purpose that keeps us centered and focused on honoring the high calling of being coaches.”

The goals we set at the beginning of the season keep us on track and moving forward. Goals give us a destination. Conversely, our coaching purpose is far more important than getting to a destination. Our coaching purpose provides our students with a journey that will challenge and help them develop their potential as human beings—an experience that will manifest in the development of our students’ inner lives. For this to happen, the coach must understand their WHY and must make a conscious and intentional choice about how they will respond prior to the heat of the battle and prior to the final outcome on the scoreboard.

It’s the same choice that faced the young goalie in the penalty kick situation. He made a conscious choice to go right before the shooter ever kicked the ball. As coaches, we must do the same. We must make a conscious choice to be teachers of the lesson before difficulties arise and the outcome is determined. Emmett Fox states, “Difficulties come to you at the right time to help you grow and move forward by overcoming them. The only real misfortune, the only real tragedy, comes when we suffer without learning the lesson.”

The ability for coaches to suffer a loss and see through it to the lesson is what makes coaches great teachers. Great teachers clearly see their students as more than human ‘doings’—concerned only with their students’ performance and instead, they see them as human ‘beings’—concerned with the growth and development of their students’ inner lives.

Our culture says the outcome on the scoreboard is everything. And yet there is so much potential for some-thing deeper and more lasting if we can see more than just the win or the loss. We want students to show up, present themselves, overcome obstacles, fight through adversity, find solutions, and create opportunities. We want and expect learning to come from their playing experiences. But for this to happen, we have to be willing to accept loss for what it is—an opportunity for coaches to teach—and, as such, an opportunity for students to learn and develop. When we take advantage of a loss and intentionally utilize it to develop our students’ inner lives, something that will live well beyond their playing days, we are preparing our students to meet life’s challenges head on.

Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. When we are intentional and understand our coaching purpose—our WHY—both can have a positive impact on the human growth and development of the students participating on our teams.