“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” – Wilma Rudolph
Children are learning, at a very early age, that winning is everything. That if you don’t win the game, the match, the meet, that somehow you are less of a person than you were before. Those ninety minutes of their lives (by some people’s standards) define who they are and what they will become.
There is always a winner and a loser, that’s just a fact. But I think how you act when you are defeated more so defines who you are than when you are celebrating your victories. Anyone can jump on that winning train. When you’re feeling good and at the top of your game, when you are getting high fives and pats on the back and your head is held high and your smile is bright, that’s the easy part.
But when the numbers aren’t in your favor and the self- pity and guilt begin to settle in, that’s the defining moment, where you choose between hanging your head or holding it high. That’s where your true character shows through.
So we look to those who lead us for strength and grace in the losses and humility in the wins. And we hope that they will make the right choices and show the right emotions and understand that they are being watched, very closely, by many sets of inexperienced eyes. Eyes that don’t always know how to act in many situations and are looking for guidance to deal with the emotions that they are experiencing right then and there.
That’s where our children will learn the lesson of losing, through the actions of those that are leading them. Their hearts are breaking and their ego’s are bruised, minds racing with the should of’s and could of’s. Right then and there is the opportunity, the moment to say that it’s ok to hurt and be disappointed because losing is not fun. Not for anyone. But it happens and it’s good to understand this feeling because when they do win, they will relish that feeling and celebrate it. They will also look at the opponent they defeated and remember what loss feels like, giving them the ability to be compassionate and humble in their victory.
We all need to learn to fail graciously and teach our children the same because failure is inevitable. At some point even the most seemingly perfect person will fall on their face. It’s the manner in which we get up that will determine the course for our future.
There is a sign that hangs in the tunnel between the home team locker room and the tunnel to the field at Notre Dame Stadium that reads “Play Like A Champion Today.” Of course it’s there to inspire but what do those words really mean? Win. Yes, of course, that’s the objective. But champions aren’t always victorious. A true champion is someone who walks back through the tunnel and is able to hold their head high because they put it all out there and played with integrity and grace and humility.
And having done that, regardless of the outcome, they have achieved victory.