Thursday, March 23, 2006

Winning, Sportsmanship, Losing - In That Order

In days gone by, I played in some very competitive basketball leagues, and I'd play pick-up in places where you lose you may as well go home because the wait wasn't worth it and neither was the hazing you took on the bench. Some of these places, it wasn't out of the question that some guy might come back with a gun after he felt cheated. In the past few years, I've toned it down, and my ankles and my game have sort of dwindled to a shell of its former "glory." Now, I'm at the point where it's okay for me to just go play at the Christian Life Center amongst guys with whom I go to church.

Nonetheless, I still can't get the its "win-or-nothing" feeling out of my system. I know that's not a Christian sentiment. I have generally tried to reflect God through honesty and sportsmanship on the court - not always, mind you, but I do most of the time when I go out to play - however, I never have and can't see the day that I will go out to play just to play. Some people probably will feel sorry for me with an attitude like that, but I'd prefer you to keep your sympathy.

I remember so many guys in the past that have made statements while we're playing like "we're just out here to get a sweat going" or "I'm just playing for fun" or "you and me, we're just trying to get in shape." Speak for yourself, fellas. Maybe they'd target me because I was the only other white guy out there. I don't know. But whenever someone says that kind of stuff, I'm thinking, "I sure hope you're playing on a different team from me" or, really, "why don't you take your act to the B-Court down the road?" I've really never walked onto a court thinking I'm going to lose, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary (i.e. the multitude of losses I've sustained throughout my playing days). And I've never just played for "fun," "getting in shape," or to take pounds off by sweating. No. They keep score. So I play to win.

Now, in all of this, I don't think I'm necessarily right. The weird thing is, as a coach and parent for my kids, I really don't care that much at all if they win or lose. At their ages (7 and 5), I worry much more about my boys'/teams' development than I do about what the score is. The kids are a little different, and that's fine. They want to win, and I don't begrudge them that, because as a player, I'm just like them. But for my kids, I try to explain and explain that it's about giving your best and leaving it all on the field. And deep down, I really believe that. For them.

Because, oh hypocrite that I am, if I give my best and I lose in a basketball game, it's not alright. It's not even close to alright. I know that I know that I could have done something else, something different, even if not better, to help my team win.

It may please you to hear, I am working on my attitude, though, in other areas than basketball. If I'm playing Taboo or Pictionary or even Life, I don't HAVE to win anymore to enjoy the game. I haven't played the non-sport that is softball in a long while, but I'd imagine that I wouldn't HAVE to win at that to have a good time with they guys anymore.

But that's the way it's been for me -- win first, then sportsmanship, and if you lose, it's crapola -- since I've been, oh, about eleven. Can anyone empathize, or am I just waaaaaaay out there with American culture and "the World" with this one?


codepoke said...

Dude! I cannot imagine another way to live.

I was happy to lose at tennis the other day. Yeah, I was happy because the guy I was playing was almost 2 full levels above anyone else I play. I was happy because I performed 2 levels above anything else I have ever played before.

If I am still losing to him by the end of the summer, I will NOT be a happy camper. If I play over my head and lose, I can deal with that, but it's hard. The closer the game is, the harder it is to swallow. Getting crushed is much easier than losing one I "have nothing to be ashamed about".

I step on that court to let the wild things out. I am going to talk to myself, pump my fist, and try everything I know to make that guy miss. I'm going to pour my heart, mind, and sweat into every shot, and be mad at every opportunity I waste. I'm not very demonstrative, but in the quiet of my head I am going full tilt (choking aside).

My only caveat is that somehow I learned it's a bad thing to crush an opponent. If I start to get too far ahead, I start feeling sorry for the poor sap. I've wept bitter tears because that niceness caused me to lose. I'm learning to get over that. I don't ever want to play a third set for no reason again.

Show me one word of scripture that says anything else, and I'll give up sports. If I play, I play. If I cannot play, I'd rather take up weights or running or some other masochistic pastime.

You are not alone.

Brett said...

I think the desire to win is a separate thing from sportsmanship. You play to win the game. If you're playing a sport, you're expected to give your best effort to try to win. Anything less and you aren't playing in good faith.

So those guys that are out there just to break a sweat or burn a few calories - if they mean what they say - aren't giving a good faith effort.

Win or lose, you're expected to behave like a sportsman. You should behave with dignity and treat your opponent(s) in a manner that confirms his/their dignity. (I hate trash talk.) And you play by the rules.

But there is nothing wrong with really, really, really wanting to win. In fact, I'll go ahead and assert that you should really, really, really want to win. That's the point of competition - to win. Sports have other purposes, and we can learn a lot and benefit greatly from participating in sports. But this should not be confused with competition, which is distinct from sport. The purpose of engaging in competition is to win.

codepoke said...

I add that playing is hard work. Watch those cute little puppies some day. They are going at each other hammer and tong, and someone always gets hurt.

As a matter of fact, I think I will add a lot more. This topic is a hot one for me.

We learn to be nice while we are sitting in this prim little rows at school, and everywhere else. We learn to bleed our souls out in a cause while we are out on that court. The difference between success and failure is found on the practice field before the battle, it's found in the calm that has to take over at some point, and it's found in the resolve to go down swinging.

We learn that there is no honor in quitting when we are behind and we give up. There's no mistaking the disdain our opponent acquires for us in that moment, and we never want to see that again.

A man can have neither meekness nor humility until he has learned to stand. The coward and the humble man can each sound equally Christlike, but the humble man can choose between several realistic options. The coward is just putting a spiritual face on the only option he has. If that option is the wrong one, he is out of luck. He's got nothing else.

Sports will not make a man brave, but tell me a better place to practice courage. I'll be there.

DugALug said...


You just need to lose a lot more: like me! Then words like 'sportsmanship' and 'effort' become an integral part of your defensive dialogue.


DugALug said...

"It is never just a game when you are winning."

Quote From George Carlin

Rich said...

Yeah, but if you watched Adam Morrison's reaction last night after Gonzaga gave up the 17 point lead to UCLA (who scored the last 11 points of the game), you know that it's not just a game when you lose either. Gonzaga gave it away.

And Morrison bawling and heaving on the floor showed "the agony of defeat" pretty well, I thought.

All that work you've done all year, really, all your life to get to that point, and then your team gives it away. Heart-rending.

The difference between winning and losing may only be a point, but the chasm is as wide as the east from the west.

DugALug said...


You had to bring up Zag didn't you?! You cheeky-monkey! I was crying with Adam. That was an amazing comeback.

Winning is all about perspective. If you aren't disapointed in loss, then you aren't giving enough of yourself. In saying that, there is no shame in loss. No one is disapointed with Morrison's performance or effort except probably him. They may be stunned by UCLA's amazing comeback, but I am sure not holding it against Adam!

This win-win-win attitude is very much a globally adopted cultural attitude. That was one of my main points with my 'Olympic Model' post on my blog. Can you answer these three questions:

Does it consume me?
Does it negatively affect my relationships with God and others?
Does it cause others to stumble?

If the answer is 'yes' to any of these, then something may be out of kilter.

Just a thought.


Scot said...

Okay, I'll be brave enough to offer a voice of opposition to all this bravado, for the sake of argument, if nothing else. Hopefully, I won't offend in the process.
I agree with the notions that courage and bravery can be developed on the court or field. I've felt the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. I've given my all before. But it doesn't mean I have to do it everytime I play. It doesn't mean you are less of a man if you want to play for non-competitive reasons. What is more often at stake is pride vs. shame rather than courage vs. cowardice. The reason people can't stand to lose is that their pride can't handle defeat. When my team wins, all I usually have is my pride. That and 50 cents might get me a Coke.
People that play together just need to be on the same page. If I'm out there playing for fun, and the people I'm playing with have their self-esteem on the line and are playing for keeps, it's no good for either of us. If however, both sides want to draw blood, then go at it.
Sport isn't the only place to practice courage, though. Life is the real game to be played. Try disciplining your kids in public. Try standing for Christ at work. Which attribute affects your actions there... your pride or your courage. I'm not impressed by warriors in athletics that are wimps at home and at work. Consistency across every aspect of your life could be a good thing.

Brett said...

Scot - I think there is a distinction between "playing" and "competing." As you suggest, people that play together need to be on the same page as to whether they are just "playing" or whether it's a competition.

This may say something about my emotional maturity level, but I have trouble enjoying an athletic endeavor unless there is some sort of competition involved. Even when I'm just shooting baskets by myself, I'm still seeking to make a certain percentage of shots from the foul line, the three-point arc, etc. I strongly prefer competing to playing.

codepoke said...

Hey Scot,

There are people with whom I play, and can only play, and that's cool. I'm out there because I love them, and love being with them. I can do that.

I usually switch to my left hand, and make little secret rules like only hit topspins to their forehand. Then we all have fun.

My point is not that competing is the only thing, but that it's a right and beautiful thing to do when I get the chance.

I also agree that competing is not an end. Courage is not to be used on a court and then forgotten. You take it with you into the grocery store, at work, and in the church, or you have wasted your time. In fact, courage on the court will not directly transfer into any of those places, but I think it does give me a leg up. If it makes the learning that little bit easier, I'm a happy man.

But mostly I just love to be full-throttle.