Good Losers

Older readers will remember when learning how to lose graciously was an essential art. Bowled out? Well done, sir! And the batsman was the first to applaud as he walked back to the pavilion. Now our Olympic fervour seems to be encouraging us to  ‘be a winner’ and ‘go for gold’ in all kinds of context, both appropriate and inappropriate, but it struggles with the idea of losing or even coming second. ‘What a loser!’ is dismissive, used of someone hopelessly inadequate (at least in the speaker’s eyes). Tears, tantrums, appeals, we have become familiar with them all. When the Team GB male athletes refused to say they were disappointed at not winning a gold medal, their interviewer seemed a bit nonplussed, as though their achievement in winning a bronze were somehow insufficient.

Success takes many forms, and a ‘personal best’ is surely not to be despised. The problem with an obsession with winning, of always being first, is that it carries over into other areas of life where unreal expectations can do great harm. Today would be a good day on which to to a little personal reassessment: what do I expect of myself; even more tellingly, what do I expect of others? The answers could prove unexpected.

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22 thoughts on “Good Losers”

  1. What wonderful common sense ……I had been thinking much the same thing.I have become very concerned about the Olympic build up,and the sense of failure that very many must be experiencing.Our society has become obsessed with success,but we learn so much more when things do not “go” exactly as expected.Scripture does not talk about “success” ,but emphasises faithfulness and commitment.We each run our individual races of God’s will for our lives,and trusting in His help ,we achieve our goal….”looking unto Jesus”.There is a young Christian woman rowing today,who says ,that whatever happens,the most important thing in her life is following Jesus,and after the Olympiics she will be doing just that ,in working in the prison service with young offenders. The great Eric Liddell,said that he ran to experience “God’s pleasure”.It was the most important thing to him.

  2. I do find that at times ending up with the attitude that if I can’t do something better or at least as well as other people I might as well not bother at all. Perhaps it should just be a case of constantly doing things to the best of our ability / opportunity. This somehow seems to cover so many different aspect of life too.

  3. It depends. If you came second (or fourth, or wherever) because you gave your absolute best and someone else was better, that’s something to be proud of. But if you had the ability to be the best, but came second because you neglected your training or gave less than 100%, that is a waste of your God-given talent. I know it’s “only a game”, but only God knows why he gave you that talent, or what he intends to do with it. Come to think of it, we call it “talent” for a reason.

    • Sometimes, perhaps, we also need to take into account another good, e.g. letting another win in order to encourage him/her. That’s not wasting or denying our own talent but allowing different values to come into play.

  4. I feel Martin’s conclusion (above) is especially pointed.

    Whatever creed we ‘buy into’, or none, our purpose on earth is to glorify God since we’re made in his image. This is the only yardstick there is. Even to deny to the existence of God, is to acknowledge him.

    The problem with modern notions of winning and losing is that they’re inevitably artificial and belong to some extraneous agenda which is rarely part of the soul’s dialogue with its Maker.

    In the Parable of the Talents, the protagonists are not given equal proportions, but those who ‘invest’ their gift in life itself, double them. Everything appreciates (including the Giver!)

    Mostly, it is not ours to know how well we’re doing in this very real context, and that is good, lest the wrong kind of pride creep in and spoil it and lest we lose the vibrant edge of faith.

    To accept the package we’re dealt, without questioning its value, and to try to make of it ‘something beautiful for God’ is the art of living.

    When life hands out lemons, those who make lemonade are those who know true joy!

  5. Some TV commentators in France are so offensive by their insensitive questions. They are unbearable. I wish they would be chosen for their intelligence. As it goes, I have no idea what are the criteria…

  6. I can remember that when I started playing sport in the main hockey and athletics, running cross country and half marathons, I thought of sport as an aid to my own well being as well as being quite a sociable thing – albeit, that running is quite an individual pursuit unless part of a team.

    But I was brought up to understand that all sport was recreation and winning wasn’t the object, rather playing and participation in good nature and good faith in observing whatever rules applies was good sporting behaviour.

    In my latter sporting years, I noticed what is described as ‘gamesmanship’ creeping in, in old fashioned terms it could be described as cheating. Bending the rules in the hope of not being caught, the priority being to give you an unfair advantage over your opposition with the intention of ensuring that you win. Gamesmanship takes all forms, particularly aggression, fouling and doing your best to unsettle an opponent. It seems to be tolerated in some sports unless carried out to an extreme.

    I found this dispiriting, and while I would never have allowed it in any team that I played in, once I become an Official for Hockey, I was obliged to take notice and penalise such behaviour. I well remember how aggressive players were towards my decisions – questioning them, muttering things under their breath pushing the boundaries until I was obliged to react with a Yellow or Red Card. Once this became a frequent occurrence, I decided that I no longer wished to be involved in a sport that I had loved. I left and while I look back with regret, it was essential that I preserved my integrity and didn’t descend to the level I observed on the playing field.

    In the Olympics, we see naked greed for success from some, and in others we observe their great joy in participation and the reward that winning brings. Bradley Wiggins seems to me to exemplify the sportsmanship which I can recognise and appreciate. Oh that all Olympian’s were like him.

  7. For so many years now, society has insisted that even in the games children play at the school level, or when it comes to grades that no one should lose, lest they have their feelings hurt. It’s troubled me, because learning how to be a good sport is an important lesson we need to learn, growing up. I don’t care for a society, where some adults are excused as being a “kid” into their twenties and thirties. It’s increasing selfishness, causing people to be self focused, and lacking in empathy and understanding.

    What’s more, despite all the claims of more, “just” and “equal” societies, have you noticed that class lines are even more rigid, and our communities, where in the past, the poor, middle classes and wealthy had more interaction and had an understanding of the lives of each other, it’s much less likely to happen these days.

    • Very true. We need to learn how to be both winners and losers. You have reminded me that one of the ‘lessons’ we were required to absorb at school was how to accept a compliment gracefully. Just as necessary as applauding that dratted bowler!

  8. It is a shame that people no longer understand that “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” That’s how we were brought up as children. “When do you do your best? Always.” If you do your best, you will feel successful.
    It does bother me that the silver medal Olympians are crying and their parents are being asked, “How will you comfort your child?” as if they have failed. There are winners thanking God for making them a winner, as if God chooses the winners and losers.

    In the US, our reality television shows end up with one person winning a million dollars for “besting” the others, no matter what it takes, cheating, lying, disrespecting. Such a terrible message to our young people that those people are rewarded as winners.

    The Olympians should be proud just to be in London, to be so gifted in athletics, and to be able to share this gift by bringing that joy to others.

    I am grateful to God for all the gifts I have and my joy increases as I share my gifts with others.

    • Since I wrote this, my niece, who was promoted as a certain gold medal winner, won a silver. She handled the media attention with grace. Her disappointment was in her performance not in winning a silver. She is only 16 and behaved like a real champion.

  9. I have to say, from my chair of convalescence, and freedom to watch the Olympics,that this is to my mind one of the things to have happened to us in the UK for a long time; someone quoted Dean Acheson as saying after the last war that the UK had lost an empire and had no replacement for it; the sound of deafening cheers for the winner(s) and losers of whatver origin has been wonderful; perhaps being host to this was answer.I haveseen hardly any weeping for losing a gold, but many celebrating silver or bronze, or just taking part. I wonder whether the angels have had time off from all their heavy and sad responsibilities and been crowding around the rim of the stadium and othersites….surely God delights in these achievements as in all the arts and creations of men.

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