‘Tis better to have played and lost than never to have played at all

I love losing.

To be clear, that’s not a reference to any team — believe me, as a Cubs fan, I’ve had more than enough experience associating athletic ineptitude with a group of players. And I certainly can’t stand being part of a losing team, because that’s just no fun.

The key to understanding losses is realizing that they account for half of all game outcomes (soccer and its penchant for draws notwithstanding). So everybody is going to lose — in the major leagues, at least 60 games a year. But it’s not that you lose that counts — it’s how you lose.

If you follow sports, you have no doubt seen a series of textbook examples of how not to lose, often reducing the game to a series of complaints about the officiating. In the 2011 Maple City Hoopfest, this was encapsulated perfectly by an opposing coach whose profanity — twice including the f-word — earned him an ejection.

On the other end of the spectrum is the coach who says, for all intents and purposes, that the game is out of hand and his or her actions are largely irrelevant. These coaches tend to be found toward the bottom of the table in unaffiliated youth leagues — envision the antithesis of Will Ferrell character in Kicking and Screaming, but don’t watch the movie if you can avoid it.

At its best, losing gives teams, players and fans an opportunity to try things they wouldn’t otherwise see: combinations of personnel, perhaps experimental plays and game situations without the pressure of actually worrying about the final score.

Sports – especially in a close game – yield tension. Tension is pretty much miserable. But it’s the laid-back atmosphere that can make losing a bit more tolerable. I think the Olympic creed is on to something:

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part … The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Tony Miller
Written by Tony Miller

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