I’m coaching my two oldest sons’ youth basketball team this year. Last week we lost our first game 14-10. Last night we lost 46-0. Yes, you read that correctly. We scored 0 points and gave up 46…to 3rd and 4th graders. I can’t recall ever being so humiliated in the sports arena in my entire life. No, I’ve never been a superstar as a player or as a coach, but 46-0?! It was tough. It is tough.
Lots of things were racing through my mind after that game last night. I hate losing and hated this embarrassment for the sake of my team and for my own pride. Still, I believe there are several lessons from losing that were clearer to me after such a humiliating loss.
- Losing fosters humility.
“When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Now, don’t get me wrong. Our team did not have a great deal of pride that needed chipping away. We know we’re not very good. Only a couple of our 10 players have ever even played organized basketball before this year. Still, the great humiliation that comes from a thumping can be good for us, and it can build character. It certainly protects us from feeling a sense of pride and thinking we’re something special.
Losing reminds us of something we too often forget – it’s not all about us. When you lose, no one is celebrating you. In fact, for the record, I am adamantly opposed to trophies for participation. Let’s not reward losing. Let’s encourage winning and encourage losers to get better but stay humble because anyone can lose.
I told my two oldest sons last night that sometimes getting crushed like this can be good for us. Losses, especially big and embarrassing losses, remind us that this life has a lot of loss. Things are not always going to go our way. We are going to be disappointed. We are going to be hurt. We are going to lose. Losing fosters humility.
- Losing helps learning.
One of the things I refuse to do with 3rd and 4th graders is to play zone defense. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to zone defense, as it can often be the best and most effective option when played well and used in the right situations with the right players. Children who are learning how to play basketball, though, need to learn how to play hard man-to-man defense. There is no question we would do better in a 2-3 zone because very few 3rd and 4th graders can shoot from the perimeter. Zone defense would help us cover up the weaknesses of our less experienced players and better use the strengths of the few who actually know what they are doing on the court.
Last night, playing zone would not have changed the outcome of the game, except that we probably would have lost by 30+ points and grabbed a few more rebounds, rather than losing by 46 points and getting crushed on the boards.
Last week, though, could have been different. The team we were playing came out in the second half playing a 2-3 zone. Since our players aren’t strong enough to shoot outside the lane, and since we don’t have any ball handlers, we only scored two points in the second half (after leading 8-0 at halftime). Their zone worked on us, and my unwillingness to play zone hurt us. Both last week and last night, we gave up several layups because we always have players on the court who just don’t quite understand yet what it is to play defense.
But, I desperately want our kids to learn how important hard-working, pressure defense is. Maybe I’m being ridiculous, but I believe learning has to trump not losing at this age. For that reason, I think losing can help in the learning process because it exploits our weaknesses. If we play a 2-3 zone, we will do better, but some of our players will never learn to play defense. Losing shouts loudly what we need to do differently. Losing helps learning.
- Losing emphasizes effort.
When we were getting destroyed last night, some of the kids were (understandably so) dejected. They became lethargic and stopped putting forth much effort. Some of the others, though, were sprinting down the court and diving for loose balls like it was a close game that really mattered.
It’s much easier to be motivated and put forth effort when we have a chance to win, especially to win a game of importance and excitement. By the time our team was down 10-0 before the end of the first quarter last night, though, we realized how much we were outmatched in this lopsided game. Still, some of the kids never gave up. They kept playing hard. They hustled down the court. They listened to me coach and tried to do better. I noticed, and I made sure they knew. I hope others noticed. I hope their effort only increases and that it is rewarded with future success and strong character.
When someone keeps getting knocked down but keeps getting back up for more, he is noticed. There’s a reason the crowd cheered for Rocky against Apollo Creed and that even the Russians cheered for Rocky by the end of his fight against Ivan Drago. Of course, Rocky ended up winning that last fight, but he was definitely losing when the cheering started. Losing emphasizes effort.
- Losing still stinks.
Even with all the things I learn, I do not endorse losing. I hate losing. I don’t even like losing a board game to my preschoolers. I am, when not careful and/or not held accountable, sinfully competitive. Hopefully, I’m not a poor loser and a poor sport, but I find it very difficult to find contentment after a loss, especially a loss in something I care about and something at which I work hard to win.
Losing stinks because I don’t believe we were created to be losers. Losing is against our nature. We can learn to accept and deal with losing, but I think there is a problem if we settle for losing without striving for more.
Last night was another one of those moments when I found myself missing my dad like crazy. My dad was a competitor and a winner. He also hated losing. He worked hard at everything he did. He didn’t give up. He didn’t settle for mediocrity. He taught me to work hard and sacrifice my own goals for the sake of the team…the success of the team.
My dad was a great coach, too. Even though he was a high school basketball coach, my dad worked with young children every weekend for years to help them learn the fundamentals of basketball and develop of a love and passion for the sport. He had a gift of making it fun but giving kids a hunger to do well and to win. When my dad died a couple years ago at the young age of 57, I remember thinking how much I would miss him when it was time for my kids to learn the fundamentals of the game.
Last night, the memory was as strong as it has ever been. I’m not a gifted coach like my dad was. The patience that he had in teaching basic fundamentals is missing in me. His ability to make it fun and make it last was special. Losing last night was tough for many reasons, but the toughest for me was the realization that I won’t get to ask my dad for advice. He won’t get to teach my kids how to play basketball the right way. Losing still stinks.
- Losing is temporary.
I can’t make this promise to my team for this season. We’re not very good. We might not win a game. The season could be a long one, a difficult one and a discouraging one. Still, losing is temporary.Do you ever wonder if sports would have existed if sin hadn’t entered the world? I have to imagine they would have because, after all, sports are a blast. Some of my best memories have come on the basketball court, the football field and the baseball diamond. How different would sports be, though, without sin? I mean, sports aren’t really sports if someone doesn’t lose. Losing is never fun, but would it have been “fun” if we were perfectly humble and completely satisfied in God? Would we be completely satisfied with losing if we were completely surrendered to Christ?
Losing is temporary because we can have eternal victory in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To make that possible, though, He had to lose. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). His loss…His sacrifice for our victory is because of His steadfast love for us. This is a love we do not deserve but a love we freely receive only in Him. “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8).
Please realize, though, that His loss is only your gain if you believe in Him. Losing stinks because losing hurts. You cannot fathom, though, the loss that will come if you don’t trust in the One who died for you.
Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.” -Matthew 16:24-27
We can rejoice even in losing because we know that losing (whether losing a game or losing something much greater) is temporary. It’s temporary because we can put our faith in the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His victory is everlasting.