Winners and losers

I’m feeling it, too, you know. Waking, working, and sleeping with the anxiety that accompanies an election, particularly this election that reflects a time in history when decisions will be made and unmade and people’s truths are being shaken. I crave the confidence and commitment that comes with knowing I’ve got the back of the person and his family who will be President of the United States. I guess we’ll know more soon about what our families and friends and neighbors and community leaders and coworkers and moms and dads and young people and students and immigrants and grandparents and first responders are thinking. I just hope it’s enough.

Losing isn’t fun, but it can be inspiring.

Several years ago I coached a soccer team comprised of about 20 six, seven and eight-year-old girls. At practice we ran, jumped, dribbled and kicked. Scrimmages were a jumble of twirling, running, skipping girls that got down and scrappy when they needed to do so. A few of these girls displayed real talent, while most were sheer fun-loving, soccer-playing kids out to have some fun and run around outside for an hour.

We didn’t win a single game, two seasons running. If my co-coach is reading, she may correct me, but I honestly don’t recall winning even one match. And we had a blast anyway.

I remember attempting to inspire confidence in these kids by highlighting a special skill displayed by every child. Alicia was good at running, Jennifer was good at kicking, Margaret was good at passing the ball, etc, etc. We encouraged the girls to call out skills of their teammates and share the praise.

As we described all of the different physical skills, a young heavyset girl raised her hand. She was one of the slower, clumsier girls, and yet got out there on the field every week and did her best.

I want to share my skill! she raised her hand.

Ok, what is your skill? we leaned in.

I am really good at math! she beamed.

Ahh. Well, we were talking about soccer skills, but nevertheless, everyone cheered.

I learned something from the team that day about support and love and honor. They were little kids, not superstars in the traditional sense. I believe that many continued to play soccer, and I know that they had a lot of fun spending a few seasons with young coaches who cared about them. They rarely displayed that meanness or frustrated spirit that too often accompanies competitive sport when thing don’t go right, and games are lost, and mornings spent running around chasing a ball don’t seem worth it. Instead, they smiled and laughed and yelled. They hugged us at the end of the year and gave us hand-painted coffee mugs and autographed tote bags. The girls raised their trophies and grinned for photos at the season’s last game.

They played so well, and yet they couldn’t get the ball into the goal.

We lost that last game, and the ones before that. And we had a wonderful time along the way.

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