First Person: Winning Matters
It hurts to lose. It’s fun to win. We learn these truths early in life. Perhaps it was hearing, “last one there is a rotten egg” or some other eloquently stated maxim that made us first realize that in life, there are winners and there are losers. Growing up is a lesson in how to do both well.
It’s a lesson I’m still learning. After 30 years, I don’t do losing particularly well, although I’ve improved in the area. This has come mostly out of survival, as I married a man who also doesn’t wear his losses well. He once refused to get in the car with me after I beat him senseless in a few “friendly” games of squash (proving wrong his declaration that “you will never beat me in a racket sport”). Not that I’m blameless: there is at least one broken tennis racquet at the bottom of a landfill somewhere that was the recipient of my bad sportsmanship after a frustrating game.
So if losing a silly racket sport can foster so much rage, why do we play?
Well, the winning, of course.
But after watching the men’s basketball team suffer a particularly tough last a few weeks back to NC State, it got me thinking, are the highs of winning high enough to make the lows worth it? Sometimes it feels like winning is nothing more than escaping a loss.
I was lucky in my own participation in competitive sports to play on teams that were successful. My high school basketball team won the State Championship my junior year and my college basketball team won the Division III National Championship my sophomore year. Both bring up fond memories, but they are not nearly as vivid as my memories of losing. I can still feel the pain of sitting in the locker room my senior year of high school, crying after losing in the final game. I remember my senior year of college, sobbing in the locker room after a loss in the Sweet Sixteen, knowing that my missed free throw at the end of the game may have sealed the end of my playing career.
It’s the curse of playing, or cheering, for a winning team. The expectation to win can occasionally damper the joy of winning and magnify the pain of losing. I admit that secretly, I enjoy “down” years for Carolina Basketball. I know the games will be exciting, each win celebrated and appreciated, and my favorite, the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of an upset! When you’re on top, the only thing that is upset is you, when your team loses to a less talented team.
Of course, all bets are off come March, when I want my team to be so much better than everyone that I’m able to read a book through each game because it is so boring.
A wise man once said, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Perhaps he’s right. I certainly don’t want our coach, our players, and even are fans to become “good” at losing (although civility should be maintained lest you be confused with neighboring fans).
So with all the potential heartbreak, would indifference be a better alternative? Living in that world, Eric and I would have patted each other on the back and walked arm and arm out of the squash courts. I would have a working tennis racket. And we would be happy for our Raleigh friends for finally beating us in basketball.
No thanks, I’ll take the losing with an extra side of pain, please.