I just finished listening to a book on Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. I was talking to a friend about this game and that got us to talking about the first World Series we could remember well.
Mine was the 1971 World Series. As an Oriole’s fan, it was a tough one. I am still bitter over that defeat. I loved everything about the Orioles. My family was from Baltimore/DC, the uniforms were awesome, and what kid wouldn’t love a team with a guy named Boog. They were World Series champs, and cruising, until fate and a guy named Steve Blass interfered, along with Mr. Roberto Clemente.
This loss was my first loss. My beloved Orioles falling. And I guess you never forget your first loss. There would be worse losses in my future. I kicked a wall so hard after Penn State lost to Alabama that I thought I broke my toe. (A habit I quickly outgrew….) The worse ever was the Yankees loss in 2001 to the Diamond Backs – in the fall of 2001, who but the Yankees should have won with Mariano on the mound?
When my team loses a big game in particular, it bothers me. For 24 hours. I don’t want ESPN. I don’t read the paper. I don’t talk sports with friends unless they are sharing my pain. Kind of silly for an adult to continue this habit.
Wouldn’t it be nice if my team would always win? If only…. Well, the truth is, the answer to that is – no….
One of the best things that sports can do for us is help us to deal with losing. Losing is inevitable. Consider little league and the value that kids get from the ups and downs of playing sports. With good coaching, kids can learn life lessons from losing big (or small) games.
In our local little league there is a parent who likes to tell the kids that if you ‘show me a person who likes to lose I’ll show you a loser.’ Idiotic. Of course no one likes to lose. But we don’t define ourselves by whether we like to lose, but by how we handle the loss. There are coaches at all level who skewer players for losing. In major sports driven by performance and money, fine. But little league? Seriously?
As Lem Elway writes, what matters is how you respond to losing. As a coach, do you:
- Stay positive. People learn more from what they’ve done well then what they’ve done right. Find the good moments and highlight them.
- Be honest. Don’t cover things up. Kids know what went wrong. You can help kids improve by showing them what they need to do better. Work on weaknesses. This needs to be done constructively. Blaming is a bad thing to teach, so don’t do it. If a mistake occurred address it personably and privately. Often said, always known, but seldom done.
- Manage your emotions. Your job as a coach is not ‘to win.’ It is to ‘develop.’ Don’t get too vested in the final score. Evaluate whether the kids are developing and whether sports are having a positive impact. If you are not in control of your emotions don’t address the team. And find out why you care so much.
- Improve. Learn from the loss. What can you as a coach do better?
- Remove the sting. Got a kids whose mistake was associated with the loss. Lead. Reinforce constantly that this is a team game. No loss comes down to one play or one player.
So while the sting of my Orioles losing in 1971 still remains, I know that at a deeper level, it was the beginning of my dealing with ways to deal with an undesirable circumstance. Now this is baseball so one must consider the priority in life. But it is something important. And the more we can help the kids we coach deal with this the better.