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Grace in losing

May 31, 2009

20061016mf_fbn_polamalu_hairPJ02_230No one plays a game to lose. No one does. Last night watching both my teams (Pens and Cavs) lose, I was reminded how important good sportsmanship is, not just to the game, but to life.  After the Cavs lost in game 6 to Orlando, Lebron walked off the court, did not shake hands and did not do any post-game interviews.  I love Lebron, but immediately, what came to mind was how much my 13 year old son loves Lebron too and how I have been struggling to teach him the importance of shaking hands even after a close or tough game.  He gets very angry when he loses.  He doesn’t understand that when you lose, you are actually getting better because you strive to BE better and you work even harder for the next matchup.  

One of my favorite players is Troy Polamalu.  Not only because he’s a beast on the field, but because he really comes to work every Sunday.  People can talk about him, tackle him by his hair, but you won’t see Troy being loud, guaranteeing games, or talking smack in general.  You WILL see him make the sign of a cross after every play. You will see him play hard.  You will see him prove himself by his actions each and every Sunday.  He is someone a kid can look up to.  He clearly has “good sportsmanship.”

Being a good sport involves not just being a “good winner” but also being a “good loser.”

It consists of fair play, sportsmanship and most importantly character.

The reason that kids should play sports are to learn these elements.  Being the best [insert sport] player you can be is tied to both talent and being a good sport.

Even during the combine, players are interviewed as well as have to show their physical talent.  That “interview” is done to break into the players psyche – to show their character.

I was really astounded to see some people on twitter say that being a good sport isn’t important. That Lebron just needed to come and play and if they were him, they wouldn’t have done the “shaking hands” thing either.  What these folks failed to understand is that these qualities aren’t just exhibited on the court or the field, they are part of life.  You can’t always win, you can’t always get your way, and you might not always like that.  But being able to deal with failure, in so many ways, is so important to your overall success in life.  How you deal with desires, fears, challenges and opportunities is part of character and can be learned through sportsmanship.

Sure, Lebron should be mad. He played his heart out all through the season and the playoffs. It’s not always easy to congratulate the opposing team after a loss.  But that does not mean it’s not the right thing to do. He’s better than that.  I just wished that in this situation, he had exhibited good sportsmanship.

I’m a firm believer in “doing the right thing.”  It’s part of my core ethical values and how I conduct myself in life – not just when I play sports.  I learned that from my parents and from playing sports all my life.  I intend to share those values with my son.  

At the end of the day you can have equal talent with someone, but it’s the little things that propel you to success.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2009 7:46 pm

    Great post. Although when I was on Twitter last night, I could see this one coming a mile away…

    Nevertheless, it’s a point that needs to be made. When we look at athletes today, we see a lot of trash talking, brash behavior, and one of my pet peeves, a whole lot of celebrating for doing what you are supposed to do. I admit, when I played, I tried my share of trash talk too. But the bottom line is, sports are supposed to be fun and that fun is in competing. When you lose, you are supposed to congratulate the victor; it’s part of what you were taught from little league-be a good sport. Nowadays, it’s okay to taunt, disrespect and basically not be a good sport. Losing is supposed to make you want to do better the next time out, in theory if not necessarily in practice.

    As for LeBron, I understand him taking the loss hard. But in the end, you should at least congratulate the victors…and unless you are obligated to do so, you should talk to the media, though I wouldn’t punish him for that.

    Again, great post.

  2. May 31, 2009 7:47 pm

    Oops…that should have read “unless you are not obligated to do so…”

  3. steelergurl permalink*
    May 31, 2009 8:03 pm

    I love Lebron. I do. I don’t really hold it against him re: hand shaking.
    The who argument that ensued after is what inspired the post.
    That and the fact that there is a disconnect between good sportsmanship and good character off the field/court.

    I see “bad character” off the field/court in everyday folks. Makes me wonder if there’s just an overall societal neglect in teaching people how to act.

    AND the fact that my kid acts like he doesn’t want to shake hands sometimes when he loses…and it doesn’t matter what sport it is…in fact, I see that trend in every day things with him. I’m nippin’ that RIGHT NOW. But it’s hard when the message the kids see from athletes and other people they sometimes look up to is bad sportsmanlike conduct.
    At least all of this provides “teaching moments” I can talk to my kid about.
    I don’t want nor do I expect kids to only get messages from athletes and celebrities, I do my part…
    I was just pointing out that clearly, these same standards are not being taught across the board. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have seen the twitter argument ensue.

  4. May 31, 2009 8:50 pm

    Exactly re: getting messages from athletes and celebrities. It starts (or should start) at home.

  5. Geoffrey Benedict permalink
    June 1, 2009 4:12 am

    From The Way of Chess (a great Chinese treatise)

    He who fights well does not lose
    He who loses well does not fall into confusion

    Applied to team sports one can’t always win, no matter how hard you fight. Leadership involves losing well.

    He put his teammates on the spot after the game. I like Ben a lot because no matter how bad the line is he always puts the blame on himself, and he is perceived as taking sacks because he holds the ball too long, which is untrue for almost all of his sacks. What it is is leadership. Sportsmanship says you honor your opponent, leadership is taking the loss on yourself, standing up for your teammates so they don’t want to let you down again.

    Cleveland Cavaliers, welcome to confusion. You won’t be winning the title till you find yourself a leader.

  6. MDbirdlover permalink
    June 1, 2009 6:50 pm

    Great post, Steeler gurl! At the end of the day, win or lose, it’s a person of character and caliber that shakes the hand of the victor.
    We don’t have to like losing to do it.
    We just have to respect the game.
    And to me, that is what this is a direct correlation of.
    We try to teach our kids that, we have to live it.

    It’s hard when “we are all witnesses” of something like that.

    I love trash-talking but I think and I try to do it with a certain level of respect. I don’t care for the players that do it much though.

  7. June 2, 2009 3:50 pm

    I posted this rambling group of thoughts over at BTSC as well, but thought this you are double posting I might as well too. (hehe)

    I’m a little late to the party on this discussion and frankly I have some mixed feelings about the entire issue. But, since I myself do not yet have any children I can’t give you the point of view on what is good for your child. I can say this though; from my talks with friends and family members who do have children who are involved in youth-organized sports, we are watering down exactly what makes sports so great. Not Keeping Score? Allowing everyone to bat each inning of a little league game? Children have to accept losing, not being good enough, and stepping up to make themselves better at some point. It’s one thing to encourage a child and it’s flat out a completely different thing to change the rules of a game to not hurt anyone’s feelings.

    Don’t get me wrong some rules that have evolved in little leagues and pee-wee squands are great rules, including the ones that force coaches to play all children for some level of time during a game. It is only fair at young ages to allow all kids to play for some baseline level of time, so that all the money invested in equipment and time invested in practice doesn’t go waste completely and it will help encourage children to stay involved in the sports.

    But the concept that some parents have that their children are too impressionable to deal with losing seems to do nothing other than foster complacency.

    My thoughts on how to explain what Lebron did to a young child would be to be honest. Lebron is a great athlete who made, what I consider to be a mistake of the head, not the heart. Lebron is at the top of his game and played his heart out, and simply made the wrong decision in terms of congratulating his opponent. He was more than likely upset with his teammates and himself and felt at the time the best way to handle the situation was to run away from it. He was wrong, he needed to congratulate his opponent with the spotlight on, if not because it is standard practice in the NBA, but because he is the ambassador for the sport. Having said that Lebron has done what he could after his mistake, by congratulating his opponent and confronting the issue.

    It’s over its done with, and with what I have ever read or heard about Lebron James, I think he takes this mistake and learns from it. I think that is the greatest lesson for a young kid to be taught from this situation. Our society has a tendency to shelter children and tell them everything they do is fabulous because they are unique and beautiful snowflakes. Not everyone is a winner, you must earn it, a lot of times through making mistakes and learning from them. Hopefully, since Lebron James is a role model to many young children he can help them understand that through his mistake.

  8. steelergurl permalink*
    June 2, 2009 5:05 pm

    DYMS – agreed!

    You are so right – we do not teach people how to lose gracefully…let alone at all. Losing is how you become better…in sports and in life. Being able to lose makes and doing so in a respectable manner makes you a better person.

    We’ve not done a good job as a society – and lebron, in my opinion, is not typically this way, so the example is only because of what happened after the game – there are pleny of people and plenty of other athletes who really epitomize poor losers. I think that’s what makes it so disappointing. lebron does know better and usually acts differently.

    Anyway, this topic is dead. On to the next one…
    Who is your gritty QB?

    (yes, I know you answered!)

  9. MDbirdlover permalink
    June 5, 2009 3:08 pm

    Hey, anyone see that James was fined for missing his media session?

    I’m all about giving him a mulligan on this whole thing.

    What he did sucked but so far from what I see, this guy is all about team, team, team.

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