It’s not easy being perfect.
Just ask my daughter’s soccer team — those kids are on fire! They played an entire outdoor season from late summer to early fall and never lost a game. Not ever. Not once.
Flush with their success, they went ahead and continued an indoor soccer session with the same stunning success. Granted, the players are all 7, 8, or 9 years old.
Hardly World Cup fodder. Yet, in some blessed combination of grace, athleticism, and the alignment of the planets, 14 children met on a randomly assembled team and their skills worked together. Perfectly.
Embarassed to win
Of course, in some cases it was almost embarrassing. They got too good too fast and, as a result, essentially smoked the other teams (sweet and darling as those other players were). Our league has rules designed to protect the egos of small children learning to love the sport.
As a result, one team is not allowed to score more than five goals ahead of an opposing team. It’s a good plan, really. In theory.
My daughter’s team was routinely up by five goals in the first 15 minutes of an hour-long game. The children would then gamely play “keep away” for the remainder of the hour, passing the ball back and forth among their teammates to the increasing frustration of the opposite team.
I think the icing on the cake was when our players would race the ball to the opponent’s goal and lightly tap the ball with their foot gently into the opponent’s goalie’s hands as if to say “here you go” before jogging back downfield.
Nothing demoralizing in that.
Didn’t get it from me
Lest I sound completely obnoxious, first let me say I’m not one of those parents that suffers any delusion that our daughter gets even an iota of her athletic prowess from me.
Oh, heavens no. I have two left feet, probably one halfway coordinated arm, and almost no competitive drive when it comes to athletics. Anyone who has seen me play soccer is well aware that I have none of my daughter’s skills.
Of course, I’m also human and as such it was hard not to revel in the glow of the childrens’ success. We were the team to beat! The team that every other team would fail to beat week in and week out.
Still, as much as we, I, enjoy those moments of pride, as the weeks — and wins — went on, there was a growing discomfort, too. What would happen when they lose?
As parents and coaches we echo time and again that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
That’s all well and good, but what if you play the game remarkably well and never actually lose? This actually worried me.
A need to lose
I like winners. Don’t we all? But I’m a huge – huge – believer in the awesome power of failure. The need, sometimes, to lose.
How hard it is to cope with always being on top? What stress comes, exactly, from being forever lauded for your accomplishments? What life lessons are learned in endless glory and good times?
With failure comes strength, my friends. Live it. Learn it. So how does a tried and true soccer mom go about rooting against her own child’s team?
I didn’t root against them, of course, but before each game I’d wonder if maybe, this time, they would finally meet their match. And last week, for the first time — ever — they did.
What, we lost?
The clock had run. The game was done. The scoreboard clearly read 1-0 and most decidedly not in our favor. What would our kids do? They’d never lost before. Would there be tears? Blame? Recriminations? Did they even know how to lose?
The gasp and collective holding of our parental breaths was almost audible. As the teams left the field, our players walked off the field shin-guard to shin-guard with the team that had just bested them.
Would there be a throw down? Tantrums? Harsh words? A winning streak had been vanquished after all!
So what did our newly minted “losers” do? They said “good game, “you were awesome,” and even waved to their opponents while saying “thanks!”
I have never been so proud to be the mother of a real loser. Lesson learned. You win some, sure. And if you’re lucky, you lose some, too.
As it turns out, if you win with grace and dignity you remain a winner forever. In everything that matters, even if not the scoreboard.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is well versed in losing at soccer herself. She welcomes letters c/o firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; or visit for photos and more at http://kymberly.typepad.com/life.)
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