Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Spare a Thought for the Losers

My son is at home today because he didn't want to go to his school swim carnival. Over the past few days, I've been debating in my head whether I should force him to go (character building?), or whether I should give him the day off! Obviously, I went with the latter. In the meantime, another parent whose kids attend a different school was singing his children's praises after their swim carnival. He gets up at 5am to take his kids to swim training, and they are indeed champions in the making. My big fear is that perhaps my relaxed attitude toward swim carnivals and sport in general is causing my kids to be weak, lazy, self-absorbed, pampered individuals who will have no backbone, resilience or determination. Oh, is that all?

I don't really care about the fact I won't be producing any Olympic champions, but I don't want to be responsible for unleashing Godzilla-like monsters on the rest of the unsuspecting world. I feel it's my civic duty to produce children who are polite, kind, responsible individuals. I want them to be good room-mates, good partners, good employees, good bosses, good citizens of the universe.

My eldest son used to play baseball when he was in primary school. I got a kick out of the fact that baseball was his chosen sport because, being from North America, at least I sort of understood the game! Perhaps, in retrospect, it would have been better if I hadn't had a clue. I have to say it was really painful watching him play. When he played T-ball, he was very easily distracted and would often be seen in the outfield using his glove as a puppet, or staring off into the sky. He frequently spaced out to the degree that when the ball finally went his way, he would stare at it as it flew past him as though it were some small delightful animal scampering by! Sometimes he would look around to see who was getting the ball, without any hint that it was meant to be him. You can imagine how the other parents and kids reacted with frustration. Every week I expected him to quit the game, but every week he showed up and gave it his best effort. His last season of T-ball he ended up winning a trophy with his team. He was surrounded by strong players and he blissfully rode on their coat-tails all the way to the top.

The following years, however, the game became more technical and skilful, and my son was way out of his league. I remember the coach painstakingly explaining the concept of stealing bases to my son. My heart sank because I knew how indecisive he was! He was a black and white kind of kid, and the choice of whether to stay on a base or steal it was agonising for him. Time after time, he would stand glued to the base with the coach, parents, and other players yelling at him to run. Of course, just as the moment to steal had safely passed, he would attempt to run! It was as though my hero Charlie Brown had come to life right in front of me, and I knew his familiar chant of "will I be the hero or the goat"?

It was the same with batting. He would stand with his bat cocked and ready, only to strike out every single time. I would like to say that he didn't get frustrated or upset, but he did. It broke my heart to see him fighting back the tears. His catching and throwing were so bad that the coach thought perhaps he should try the glove on his other hand! Even though I'm left-handed, and my son is clearly left-handed, in desperation I agreed to the ludicrous suggestion. Predictably, it made things worse and finally the coach had to admit that my son was just an extraordinarily bad player! At least the coach had a kind heart and was understanding. I can't say the same for the majority of parents and other players who laughed at my son, screamed at him from the sidelines, and basically made it known that he wasn't welcome on the field. And still, I waited for him to come to me and say he'd had enough. He never did. He played out that season and I marvelled at his courage to fail and keep on going. By another miracle his team won the championship game. In what can only be described as a classical cinematic moment, my son hit a wonky slow-motion line drive that was enough to allow two players to cross the line. After that season, he decided it was time to hang up his spikes! He still proudly displays his trophies, and his memories of his career are thankfully different from mine. He thinks he was a pretty good player.

It occurred to me this morning that what if all the "losers" decided not to show up? What if we all just stayed home and didn't participate? The simple answer is that some of the winners would have to become the losers! They might not like it! One of my son's team-mates, who was a talented player and used to bully my son, had the misfortune to strike out once. He put on quite the performance afterwards, swearing and kicking at the dirt. It may be character building, but the truth of it is, losing isn't much fun. My younger son went to the swimming carnival last year. He gave it a go and didn't enjoy it. He's not sporty and isn't really competitive. At least he gave it a go, but I don't think he needs to keep on losing to prove a point! My elder son played baseball because he loved the game. He loved going and he loved being part of a team and he loved the ice-cream he got after the game. Eventually it became too competitive and too serious and not much fun, so he quit. It's too bad that competition often takes the fun out of things. Winning is fun. Losing isn't so much fun!

So here's a message to all you winners out there, please remember that the losers play a valuable role. Without us, you wouldn't be having so much fun. And if we losers all decide to take a day off, then it might just be your turn to lose!

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