Life Lessons in Losing

I really dislike the word “lose”, especially in the world of rugby. I have a hard time saying that a group of boys or girls who play their hearts out on the pitch, diving for tackles and balls and sprinting faster than they thought possible, are losers. Maybe with the score. But not in life. And this week has been a week of winning in life while being on the losing end of the score.

It’s state championship time in Indiana, as it is in many states, and our school had both its boy and girl clubs involved in very competitive playoff matches. Our Varsity and Junior Varsity boys traveled a long distance to play tough teams, and lost hard fought matches. The Varsity score didn’t match the heart and sweat left on the field, but it was inversely proportional to the anguish felt by each of the boys after the game. The Junior Varsity game was a close contest, with both teams going back and forth down the field. Our girls also lost a very competitive match, trying so hard and playing with such intensity. It was a week of hugs given to allay the sadness of defeat.

But here’s where we found the winning parts of life….we found it in the Varsity guys who cheered on their JV teammates during their match. Defeated, tired, and hungry, they could have sulked off to a corner of the field to nurse their wounds. Instead, they showed character and commitment to their team – standing on the sidelines, shouting instructions almost louder than our coach. They cheered the proverbial school initials, clapping in rhythm as one. When the play stopped and there was an opportunity for a water break, juniors and seniors took the cue and ran with water as though their lives depended on it. One of our guys was a Touch Judge for the JV game. It was one of the most emotional, loudest games we’ve had in a long time!

We found it in our girls….our girls team had a good shot at going to the state championship semifinals, and possibly even winning. It wasn’t meant to be. There were tears afterward as the team and coaches gathered together, and wonderful words of thanks and encouragement were shared by all. The coaches had tears, the players had tears, and no one wanted the moment to end. The visiting team was jubilant in victory! They were outnumbered by our team, but they didn’t play like it. And of course, at the end of the match we had our social. With admitted heavy hearts for some of us parents (we are human), we made sure the social was ready to go for all the girls. And they were great. After a time, the two teams came over to the tables of food, loaded their plates, and sat on the picnic tables for fellowship. Two opposing teams, who’d just played a hard-fought contest, able to sit together and share a meal. This is rugby.

We found it in an opponent’s father and his daughter….after our girls playoff match, a few of us parents were huddled together, trying to cheer each other up. A father of one of the girls on the opposing team found our group, and thanked us for the food. He said that his daughter had just been confirmed that morning, and they had hustled over to the game. This was her first year of rugby (and his!), and she loved it! He was beaming as he talked about how much she loved the sport; how could we not love this new member of our sport family? I saw him this weekend at our state tournament, and he was still smiling.

And we found it in another opposing parent, a mom who was putting on the social for our boys playoff match. As I walked slowly across the field, carrying a bag and shirt left behind, a few water bottles from the field, and my own purse and camera, this kind woman offered me a brownie. Bless her!!! Chocolate always helps! And we found it in two of our girl rugby players who attended the boys match, as they willingly gathered all the used water bottles on our side and disposed of them properly.

As I watched the girls teams play in the state tournament today, I found myself pulling for all of them. Three excellent matches, three teams on the losing end at some point, with one team winning it all. At the end of the final match, the runners-up were lined up on the field, and the champions lined up right next to them creating a long line of ruggers. A girl from the championship team lined up next to a runner-up team member, and put her arm around her fellow rugger. A member of the state runner-up team was awarded the Most Valuable Player award, and she cried. Her teammates were so happy for her, they forgot their sad tears and ran to their honored teammate for a giant hugging celebration. And the winning team? Another giant hugging celebration and tears of joy! Three score losers, one score winner, and four winners in life.

It was a good rugby day.

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