Summary: When Jacob wrestled with the angel that night at the river, he was a good loser because he was willing to learn from his struggle.
Don’t Be a Sore Loser
August 28, 2005
My first and only foray into the world of coaching came during the summer that I coached my son’s baseball team. We were living in Morocco, Indiana at the time. Morocco is in Newton County and the North Newton High School Baseball team has always been a powerhouse. I’m convinced that one of the reasons is because of the emphasis on youth ball as these kids are coming up. The High School team’s motto is, “We don’t rebuild. We just reload.”
So anyway, I was head coach of a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds. It was a ten game season and, quite frankly, my team stunk. But I was always there to reassure them that we were there to have fun and winning wasn’t the only important thing. The MOST important thing was to have fun.
So we came to the last game of the season. Our record was 0 and 9. It was the bottom of the last inning and we were at bat, trailing one to nothing. With two outs, we had two players on base. We were down toward the bottom of our hitting lineup and it was Jimmy’s turn at bat. Jimmy was a nice kid, but was more at home with a book than a baseball bat. He had glasses as thick as coke bottles and had trouble running to first base without stopping to catch his breath.
Jimmy is up to bat, and I’m excited. I see the possibility to win this game. If I could win my last game, the season wouldn’t be a complete loss. I could hold my head high because my players came through when it counted.
I was pacing up and down in front of the bench, waving my hands, shouting encouragement, telling the kids that this was it, we were going to win. I was psyched.
The first pitch came and Jimmy just stood there. Strike one. “That’s Ok Jimmy,” I cried. “Keep your eye on the ball. Wait for your pitch.”
The second pitch came. Jimmy swung so hard that he fell down. Strike two. “That’s OK Jimmy. That was a good try. When you connect with one, you’re going to hit it out of the park.”
The third pitch came. It was a fastball (after all, what other pitch can a nine year old throw than a fastball) right across the plate. It happened as if in slow motion. I saw Jimmy’s lip curl and his hips begin to lean into the ball. The bat seemed to take two or three seconds to complete the arc that brought it over home plate. And then I heard the sound – “crack” – and the ball sailed over the pitcher’s head.
“Go Jimmy, go,” I shouted from the sidelines. “You can do it. Run! Run! Run! We’re going to win this one! Go Jimmy, go!”
What we had all failed to notice was that Jimmy’s shoe was untied. He took one step toward first base, and fell flat on his face. His glasses were wrenched from his head, skidding out into the baseline dirt. He just sort of laid there, stunned.
The throw was easily made to tag him out. The season was over and my hope for glory only a distant memory. Thanks to me, these kids had to endure a losing season; a season which I sure they still remember even now. I am sure they are telling their own sons about their season that could have been.
Jimmy picked himself up and walked back to the dugout. He had this big grin on his face. I was sitting on the bench just sort of staring into space. He walked over to me, put his arm around my shoulder and said, “That’s OK coach. We’re just here to have fun! And I had a great time!”
This was a great kid and I’m sure that he is now a great dad. If he isn’t a dad yet, he will be a great one when the time comes. He kept things in perspective. He knew what was important in life. He knew how to be a gracious loser.
A couple of weeks ago, Toni and I went to see the movie, “Cinderella Man.” It is a movie in which Russell Crowe plays boxer Jim Braddock who, in the midst of the Depression, beat Max Baer to win the heavyweight championship of the world. The movie portrayed him as a man of integrity who, win or lose, was always a gentleman. He always took everything in stride, always did his best, always held his head high.
That’s a little different from a lot of athletes or coaches nowadays. It seems as though it is getting harder and harder to find a good loser.