“You learn more from losing than you do winning.” – Hall of Fame baseball player Ernie Banks, who played more games in sports history without ever playing in a postseason, playoff game.
While the “winning at all costs” mindset didn’t just take root in our culture yesterday, it certainly seems more amplified because of the 24/7 media onslaught of the internet age. We’ve long since moved from a time where a legendary coach like Tom Landry would’ve kept his job after five losing seasons in a row as he did to begin his coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys. The same with basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West being nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” despite his Laker teams going 1-8 in the NBA Finals during his career.
I don’t know exactly when this amped up pressure to win began, but my guess would be that there’s been two major factors.
The first “shoe” to drop was the sneaker companies getting involved in major college sports in the 1980s with the corruption and hypocrisy of what has become a billion dollar industry, still known as amateur athletics, taking root.
Coupling the shoe companies and the corporate influences that followed was ESPN going from one cable channel to the multi-billion dollar corporation it’s become over the last 25 years with its hands in everything from professional to prep to youth sports, all in the name of profit.
These two factors have ratcheted up the pressure on everybody to win and to win now.
Particularly disturbing is the continued trickle-down trend to the grass roots level of sports where, at least the perception of purity once existed. Again, cheating to win is nothing new. But it’s unfortunate when we see examples as we have just in the last month.
In Tennessee, two high school girls basketball teams purposely tried to lose against each other to avoid playing the defending state champion in the first round of the playoffs. Both schools – Riverdale and Smyrna – were placed on restrictive probation and banned from postseason competition.
In Chicago, the feel good story of last summer’s baseball season was sullied when Little League baseball stripped the United States champion Jackie Robinson West of its title for illegally expanding its league’s boundaries to recruit players outside their area.
While most in the media expressed shock and disappointment, I wondered why we would be surprised?
We live in a culture where lines of right vs. wrong, truth telling and doing the right thing have been blurred for so long. A culture where lying and hypocrisy from our nation’s leadership at all levels (politics, business, academics, religious institutions) is not just tolerated, it’s accepted as business as usual.
Certainly the trickle down into high school and youth sports shouldn’t be surprising to anybody paying attention.
The more I talk to people, whether it’s the fellow Christians, coaches, or players I minister to, or just people in general, the more I realize the common thread of “joylessness” that runs through most of our lives. False thinking sets in when we think that winning – in sports or life – will bring us joy and peace.
The first thing I need to do is define terms here in describing the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is short for happenstance, and so our happiness is based on our circumstances. A 2-8 football coach or a 3-21 basketball coach is NOT going to be happy.
While we can expect that, most coaches that win championships won’t be happy for long either. Once you win, there’s another set of expectations and stress in trying to stay on top. And in athletics, as in any worldly endeavor, once you’ve reached the pinnacle, there’s nowhere else to go; nor is it as much fun the second, third or fourth time around.
Why is this? Why can’t we be happy all the time? The answer is that God didn’t create us to experience anything more than temporal happiness when it comes to our achievements.
Yes, I want to win! I want the teams I’ve followed my whole life to win! And I certainly want the programs, coaches and players I work with through Fellowship of Christian Athletes to win!
My heart breaks for them when they lose. But big picture, I need to step back and remember that we’re developing young people.
We live in a culture where truth is relative to everybody’s individual whims. In short, truth is non-existent because it’s whatever we want it to be at any given moment. But being active in youth and sports ministry, working with teenagers has taught me that they want truth, and they’re hungering for it.
It’s up to us, the adults in the room, to model truth for them through a foundation of joy and peace. Having joy and peace, despite our circumstances, is the underlying result of having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Experiencing God’s joy and peace is possible because we know we have victory in the end.
It’s possible because we have biblical example after example of God’s provision and deliverance when His people were under severe duress.
It’s possible because all of us have our own experiences where we were like the Israelites — pinned up between Pharaoh’s army on one side and the Red Sea on the other, seemingly with no way out.
Our problem is that too many of us want our problems to be solved. But we don’t take the time to seek God other than to ask Him for a life preserver. We certainly rarely approach Him to thank Him for the strength and maturity we’re developing by enduring through our present circumstances.
When we can get to this point — which is easier said than done because its contrary to human nature (our sinful flesh) — only then will we experience true joy and peace.
Bill is on staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a Deacon at Eagles Landing FBC in McDonough, GA. He lives in Locust Grove with his wife Amy and their three children. You can learn more about him at his website www.achosenbullet.com