I have been coaching high school girls’ basketball for over twenty years. During that time, I have had successes and failures, and my teams have both won and lost their share of games. While I always coach in such a way as to try to win each game, I learned a long time ago that, while winning is more fun than losing, winning is not everything, and winning is not the only thing. There are many important life lessons that can be learned through athletics, and the lessons learned through losing can be just as important, if not more important, than those learned through winning.
My team is currently coming to the end of a successful season with a record of 12-2 overall and 7-2 in league play. We are solidly in second place in our league and poised for the playoffs. In our 12 wins, we have had several close games and a few one-sided wins by scores such as 58-18, 60-26, and 47-11. I am always careful when a score gets out of hand not to humiliate another team with pressure defense, etc.
We hit a big bump in the road last night when we had an opportunity to move into a tie for first place if we could pull off an upset against the team currently in first. We had done very well against them the first time, playing them even for three quarters before falling in the fourth quarter and losing our first and only game of the season until last night. We went into the game at less than full-strength with one of our key players out with a knee injury. However, there are no excuses in sports. We had one of those games where nothing seemed to work, our free-throw shooting was uncharacteristically bad, we couldn’t seem to buy a basket even when we were wide open for a lay-up, and we finished with the lowest point total any of my teams have had in several years. We ended up losing by a score of 65-18 to a team that is clearly better than us, but probably not that much better than us.
So what does a coach say to his team after that kind of a loss? I said what the title of this article says. “We lost a basketball game, but nobody died.” I have never lost any sleep over a game. Does that mean I don’t care about winning? Of course not. The object of the game is to attempt to score more points than the opponent in a manner consistent with the rules. However, in the grand scheme of things, certain events, such as basketball games, fade into insignificance.
I lost my first wife to a massive stroke in the summer of 2001. Since that time, the Lord has helped me put my coaching experience even more into proper perspective. Losing a basketball game is of little consequence when compared to losing a spouse. If someone can’t deal with losing a game, how on earth will they deal with losing a friend, a sibling, a parent, a spouse, or a child? We can learn a little bit about dealing with the big losses by dealing with the small losses in a proper manner.
My first season of coaching after my wife went to be with the Lord was a unique experience. I had an All-CIF guard and a supporting cast made up of very inexperienced players. We ended up with a record of 2-18. We really cherished those two wins. Many might consider that season a total failure, but I remember it very fondly as one of the best ever, not because of what happened on the court, but because of the godly young women on my team who rallied around me daily by practicing hard, by doing the best they could do in the games, and by encouraging me with their words as they understood I had suffered a great loss.
When a little disappointment comes into our lives, we can certainly put it into perspective by recognizing that other things are much more significant and by reminding ourselves that “nobody died.”