Young People Ask . . .
Is Winning Everything?
“WHEN I win it is routine. When I lose, life comes to an end.” Life does not end too often for Martina Navratilova, presently the women’s tennis champion. She seldom loses. Yet by her own admission, losing is a traumatic experience.
“We were destroyed, and I looked awful. After the game I sat in the locker room and cried, like a gigantic baby sitting there weeping. I hated to lose, and I absolutely hated to look bad doing it.” For sure, even in his high-school days, losing was a blow for ultratall American basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Is that how you feel when you lose?
Why Does Losing Hurt?
Why does losing come as such a shock to many of us? Among other things, we have been made to believe that winning is all that counts. To be second or third or just to participate means you have lost! As a former soccer amateur from Germany states: “A defeat is oftentimes a spiritual ‘funeral dirge,’ resulting in ruthless criticism.”
Says veteran sports journalist Leonard Koppett in his book Sports Illusion, Sports Reality: “The win-only psychology becomes pervasive. . . . It is a harmful influence in our culture because it is unrealistic (there can be only one number one) and because it impoverishes us by downgrading so many other virtues: skill, courage, dedication, brilliance, satisfactory effort, improvement, honorable performance.” Yes, other fine qualities may be displayed without one’s necessarily being the winner. Then should losing be a trauma? “To reduce all values to whether you win or not is self-limiting and foolish,” is how Koppett sees it.
The pressure to win, and to enjoy sports only if you do win, often starts at home—with parents. They sometimes seek fulfillment through their children’s accomplishments. Unconsciously, some parents give the impression that their reputation is on the line if their children don’t win. Pressure is also applied at school level. Speaking of his school coach, Abdul-Jabbar says: “There was his stinging criticism to face if anyone came anywhere close to beating us. Losing became unthinkable, and basketball stopped being fun. . . . [He] coached through benign humiliation. He challenged your pride, knowing that the worst thing that can happen to an adolescent is to look bad in front of the guys.”—Italics ours.
There is the clue to the win-at-all-costs syndrome—PRIDE. No one likes being shown up in front of others or being made to feel inferior because they lost. The truth of the matter is that if you brag about winning or despair about losing, you ARE a lesser person. Why so? Because as a winner you fail to respect the dignity and self-esteem of the loser. The Bible highlights this danger saying: “But now you take pride in your self-assuming brags. All such taking of pride is wicked.” As a devastated loser, you attribute too much importance to an illusion—the illusion that sports are real life when, in fact, they are a short-lived “vanity.” Wise King Solomon wrote: “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.” Remember, your true value as a person does not depend on a few seconds or minutes of sports activity!—James 4:16; Ecclesiastes 4:4.
What Does It Take to Be a Winner?
“If sports become a drudgery . . . something is wrong,” said writer James Michener. That phrase leads us to another factor in the winning-is-all-that-counts philosophy. What is it? Total dedication.
To illustrate: Arthur Ashe, the former tennis champion, wrote: “It is possible to take an athletic seven- or eight-year-old girl and, with expert instruction and about 5,000 hours of practice and competition, conceivably produce a top-50 tennis player in seven or eight years. It would take about 8,000 hours for a boy of comparable skill.” Notice that even after 5,000 or 8,000 hours of practice and competition, there is no guarantee of producing the Number 1 player. Just “conceivably” coming up with a player in the top 50.
What is the danger for a Christian in this kind of dedication? Ashe’s figures represent three hours per day, five days per week, playing tennis. What other vital interests must suffer to achieve this degree of tennis dedication? How much time is left for normal general education? How much time for more important spiritual advancement? How much upbuilding family association is lost? These are not idle questions for young people. Youth is a time when vital character, personality and spiritual foundations are laid—or neglected.
A recent article in ’Teen magazine illustrated the sacrifices that dedicated gymnasts have to make. It concerned three teenagers, Olympic aspirants Mary Lou, Dianne and Julianne. How had they achieved their success? “Mary Lou describes it as being ‘dedicated all the way.’” They have to practice six hours a day as well as keep up with schoolwork and competition travel.
But there is a price to pay. “For all three, the most difficult tradeoff was moving away from their homes before the age of 15, to be able to work with a coach whose training ability was good enough to push them to their potential.” Julianne left home at the age of 13 to prepare for the 1980 Olympics. It was all to no avail—the United States boycotted the Moscow Games.
Perhaps a more balanced view is that of novelist James Michener: “Sports should be fun for the participant. They should provide release from tensions, a joyful exuberance as the game progresses . . . If sports become a drudgery, or a perverted competition, or a mere commercial enterprise, something is wrong. . . . If the game isn’t fun, it has lost at least half its justification.”
“It’s a Game. Keep It a Game”
That simple counsel was uttered by Jack Nicklaus after finishing second in a recent golf championship. Sports should be fun and relaxation—a pastime, “a game.” Sports are not life and life is not sports. Even top professionals sometimes face that fact. Jerry Kramer, former U.S. football player, wrote: “I often wonder where my life is heading, and what’s my purpose here on earth besides playing the silly games [football] I play every Sunday. I feel there’s got to be more to life than that.”
Do you believe that there is more to life than just playing games? Certainly Christ and the apostles did. That is why the apostle Paul, who was well aware of the athletics contests in ancient Greece, could write: “For bodily training is beneficial for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8.
It is sensible to try, within reasonable limits, to keep fit. But in the long run godly devotion is more vital than bodily training. Winning the Christian race is more valuable than striving to win any type of sports contest. Victory in sports is a flash in the pan—glory today, a statistic tomorrow. But remember, success in godly devotion “holds promise of the life now and that which is to come”—everlasting life under God’s Kingdom.—1 Timothy 6:19.
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Do you hate to lose? Why?
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Sports can be a relaxing pastime when fierce competition is eliminated