My personal history in school sports is varied and riddled with embarassing moments, from Farm League baseball to high school tennis and everything in between (including ballet, which I have mostly blocked from memory.) So, for a different perspective on the last couple of days’ posts, I thought I’d share examples of the kindness of being allowed to lose.
When I was in the 4th grade, I was on a basketball team that got trounced 52-2. Instead of being traumatized because we were allowed to keep score, our team did some intense peewee level soul-searching. In the end, most of the team worked harder and got better, and several eventually quit and became really good cheerleaders. I didn’t have sense enough to quit that year (nor would I have made much of a cheerleader) but after a second season of keeping stats on the sidelines because I wasn’t good enough to play, I realized that a) I’d rather be skiing, and b) I liked math better than basketball. I ended up on the ski team in high school and at MIT for college, so being benched in peewee sports served me well.
In the 6th grade, I became the only student in history to get a black eye and bloody nose running cross-country. (Toe in root, face on rock.) A coach like the one from Dallas Academy might have whisked me off to my mother, but my coach grabbed a leaf ( a.k.a., Mother Nature’s Kleenex) and told me to keep on running. Now, did I expect the kids who had run past me and were already changed and hydrated and cool to give me one of their ribbons in celebration of my perseverance and to apologize because they didn’t slow down and let me catch up? Um, no. I just finished the route feeling a little tougher than when I started. It was a great life lesson that I applied many a night in college, when I was battered by chemistry homework and crying; instead of going home to Mom, I stuffed a tissue up my nose and soldiered on. And I admired the kids ahead of the curve.
In the 9th grade, the rule for the ski team was that in order to compete in the downhill race, you had to compete in the cross-country race as well. I had never been on cross-country skis in my life, and if you’ve tried both, you know, they are not the same! So during the first meet, on a course just short of three miles, I fell down 22 times. When I finally crossed the finish line, the only people there were my parents with a pitiful half of a frozen orange. I’m so glad there wasn’t a crowd clapping just because I made it across, because I would have been too embarassed to go through it again. Instead, I was allowed to obscurely fumble my wet and cold way through the season and experience the exhiliration of the last meet, when I fell down only once and didn’t even come in last! It was a neat kind of pride when I was given the only sports honor I could ever hope to be qualified to receive — Most Improved Player.
I think you can only really appreciate being good at something when you’ve been allowed to fail miserably at something else. That’s why I smile every time I think of the banners in our high school gym, where our math team state title hangs proudly next to the sports awards.
I’d love to hear others’ stories of being allowed to run into the wall, so you would know to turn around and find your true talent.