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Doug’s Dugout: The benefits of losing

April 11, 2019 GMT

In this day and age of participation trophies and season-end medals regardless of performance, we can read a sports publication every day and see a story about a college athlete transferring because they aren’t getting enough playing time.

Even at the high school level, there’s athletes who quit a team to attend another school across town because they didn’t like their coach. All I can do is shake my head and wonder what happened.

I will be the first to admit that I am old school when it comes to coaching. I never bought into the idea that a team full of junior high baseball players should each get a medal for finishing in last place and a team participation trophy for going 0-10.

What’s the point of competing if everyone goes home a winner in a society where winning and losing is a daily occurrence?

It is a fact of life, a fact of life that we are cheating our children of if we keep leading them down the path of sunshine and rainbows no matter the outcome. Folks, that is not the way that life works.

My mind is a bit fuzzy when it comes to my athletic experiences back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but I can vividly remember one game that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

My baseball coach at the time was a man that I respected a great deal. We had just played one of the best teams in the area and lost a heart-breaker 10-9. We gave up three runs in the top of the last inning on an error when our second baseman dove for what seemed liked miles to stop a bases loaded double with two outs. If he had made the play we would have won. He didn’t. We didn’t.

In the bottom of the inning, the bases were loaded when I came up to bat with two outs. I lined a long fly ball to left field that whizzed just outside the foul pole. The next pitch came right down the middle of the plate. I swung with all my might. I missed. I struck out. We lost.

Following the game, coach took us way out by the left field fence to talk with us. In my mind, I was sure he was going to tell us about how well we played and that we had lost by one run to an outstanding team.

Instead, he told us that if we had just taken care of that ground ball, and if we had just gotten a timely hit, we would have beaten a top team. There were no morale victories. There were no warm and fuzzies. There were no participation handshakes. There was simply the sting of a hard-to-swallow loss.

Not one of us felt that we had been bad-mouthed by the coach or that he had singled us out to shame us. We went on to win the next several games and ended the season much better than anyone expected us to.

If the same thing had happened today, there would have been ice cream cones and juice boxes to celebrate an almost win. Years later, those same students will be dealing with lost jobs, failed relationships, financial troubles and all the other challenges life can bring. How will they react?

Life is not about winning everything you try. It is about doing the very best that you can.

If you can look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and rest in the knowledge that you did the very best that you possibly could, then you will have accomplished something that all the participation trophies in the world will never buy.

Doug Phillips is a freelance writer for the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at SCHsports@lee.net.