Sunday, January 26, 2014

A league of our own


It's not winning or losing, it's how you play the game.”

I used to think that old saw was motivational. A reminder that fair play and enjoyment can't be calculated by the numbers on a scoreboard. But now that I'm a parent and have weathered a few seasons of fun-sized sporting events, I've come to understand the line is more of a tautology: Winning or losing is entirely dependent on how you play the game.

Whether you enjoy playing – win or lose – is something else entirely.

No one really believes that hippy-dippy, feel-good blarney either.

Or so I gather. ...

Certainly not the over-zealous father to my immediate left. He's coaching from the bleachers and openly mocking the refs. It's obvious that he's not enjoying the game.

The woman over on the right is trying not to yell out in frustration as my kid tosses the ball directly into the waiting hands of the opponent. But the exasperation escapes anyway.

I don't blame her, really. We're all human, and even the nicest humans, crammed into the pressure cooker of an indoor sporting event, could potentially explode. In the heat of play, I've had to hold my hand over my mouth and bite my palm to keep from hollering completely uninformed advice. It just slips out.

Even the woman wearing the sari and greeting everyone's light within with a small bow and the declaration of her own internal illumination, scoffs at the idea that if all a person cares about is winning and, if every loss leaves them in despair, then they'll never truly experience the joy of playing.

“It's easier to say that when you're winning.”

She may have a point. I don't know.

Winning isn't really my area of expertise.

I'm pretty good at losing, though, even if I do say so myself.

I don't grimace or make faces. I don't demand a recount. I don't blame the cards or the dice or my stupid shoes. The sun didn't get in my eyes.

I smile and congratulate my opponent.

But should I play on?

After all, don't we need some degree of success to continue in whatever field we endeavor? How long can a person continue to enjoy losing games by landslides? How long will they let you? How long can one kid sit on the bench before she gets the hint?

Pssst. … Art club. Try out for arrrrrrt club!”

You can't really sugarcoat it forever. It is what it is.

We all have to go looking for what we're good at, or just let it in when it finds us.

Back when my mother was lucid and could trounce me at Scrabble, she asked if it bothered me that I never won against her.

It didn't feel right to her – always winning.

I knew what she meant. I felt badly that I wasn't much of a challenge – always losing.

What's fun is a sport without competition?

I just told her the truth: I liked the game regardless of the points.

How I play the game isn't about winning or losing. It's just playing the game.

Sometimes, I think players like me really do need a league of our own.


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