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Friday, August 7, 2009

We need to lose

The year was 1987. The place was a snow covered Franklin Park Golf Course in Boston. On this unseasonably chilly and snowy day the Eastern Massachusetts Class Cross Country meets were held on and around the storied golf course. I remember the dejected feeling as I sat, sweaty and cold in the dirty, slushy snow. On this day my Cross County team didn't qualify for the state championships for only the 2nd time in the 20+ years that the meets have been held. I felt the deep seeded guilt for being part of this team failure. The hurt went deep. The lesson, however, was ingrained deeper.

I will never forget this day.

I was only a freshman on that day and for that season. I was the 5th man and last scoring position on a team that finished 8th in a race where 4th was required to move on. I learned something that day. I learned to lose and it was the best lesson that I ever learned.

The next Monday a bunch of us got together and went for a run. We ran every day. As the weeks rolled on the group got smaller and smaller until one day, in the dead of winter, I was the only runner to leave Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School's cleat room to do a 6 mile run. I soldiered on till spring running every single day vowing to apply the lesson I learned months earlier in the snow at Franklin Park. Losing didn't fit me.

The next year we returned to the Class B meet and finished 4th to qualify for the All-State Meet. At States I was a sophomore and my team claimed 10th and I finished in 106th place. This was better but we still lost to 9 teams. Lessons are meant to be learned. Defeats are meant to sting. I again learned a valuable lesson and pressed on towards a lofty goal of having no team finish higher than my team.

My junior year my team succeeded and we didn't lose to one single team. Not one.

My senior year we had one of the best teams in the country. We were ranked #2 in the entire nation behind a team in California. We were just a little school from little Cape Cod but yet our team was in the cross hairs of the best in the country. Early in the season we faced the previous years New England Champions on their home turf and lost a dog fight by a few points.

Time to learn lessons from losing again.

Four weeks later we faced the same team from Saint Rafael's academy of Providence again in their backyard except this time we rolled them. We were peaking and we made them look silly. Lesson learned. At states we won again. Lessons applied.

These lessons from high school sports have stuck with me for my entire life.

In 2005 I raced like a champion at the XTerra Worlds and finished 7th in my age group. The next year I went back and stunk up the place with a flat tire. Which race did I learn the most from? This year I went to Richmond, Virginia in April and had a disastrous race in the Duathlon Nationals. I went back 7 weeks later and had the best race that I've had in years at the XTerra Atlantic Cup. I learn. You bet I learn!

You learn more from your loses than you do from your wins.

I work at the YMCA so I support YMCA programs. I do not, however, support the "everybody plays, everybody wins" philosophy. Yes everybody needs to play but youth sports should be about lessons and about improving. If you don't learn how to lose how are you going to learn how to win? (You know this is true in life and not just sports, right?) Worse yet, if you never experience failure as a youth then how are you going to deal with it as a young adult?

I wish the YMCA's and schools would stress competing more. This would help the kids that are excelling to excel. It would also help get kids that aren't meant for sports into art or music or whatever their passions may be. We all carve out our space in life and fill it with light. Why not be happy about the space you carve and the light you fill it with?

I push my son to be his best and enjoy what he's doing. If he doesn't want to play soccer or basketball I'm not going to make him. BUT, if he plays he will learn to do his best and learn to win and lose. After all, it doesn't matter in the who wins or loses it's who tried there best and learns the lessons for the next games. That, my friends, is the secret of my success.

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