Are You a Winner?
The late afternoon sun soaks the landscape and the ball fields teem with activity. The smell of freshly made popcorn and cooked hot dogs percolate through the dugout as family and friends slowly find their seats among the wooden bleachers resting under a large shade tree.
I watch as my daughter, Ashley, walks up to the pitcher’s mound and turns to face the first batter of a rival ball club. The game does not go well. Our team makes several key mistakes and Ashley fails to get on base amidst a hitting slump. I become frustrated as I realize we will lose the game. I gaze at the scoreboard and shake my head as I wipe the sweat off my forehead. The game is over, we lost 8-2.
I force myself to jog out on the field and smile weakly at our girls as we line up to congratulate the team that just beat us. I make eye contact with each player and coach from the opposing team and wish them well with a “Good game.” Deep in my heart I am less than satisfied as I gather up our equipment and head out of the dugout.
Later, I sit next to my daughter as she chews on a soft pretzel and giggles with one of her teammates. I look out across the ball field and watch another softball game unfolding in front of us. I recollect our game for a moment and remember each error with great detail. I recount each dropped ball, each missed opportunity and strikeout. I replay the game in my head and imagine a different outcome, with us winning, if we avoided a few mistakes. Then, I look over at Ashley and she seems content in the moment and it bothers me.
“Aren’t you upset we lost?” I finally interrupt Ashley and her friend.
Ashley looks over her shoulder and smiles, “Not really.” And then turns back to her friend. I think about her statement and it frustrates me more, so I push the conversation.
Ashley looks back at me. “I don’t know.” She responds. “I pitched well, I played well, and I did my best.”
“But what about all the mistakes?”
“What mistakes?” Ashley inquires turning towards me still grinning with nacho cheese on the corner of her lip.
I wipe the cheese from her face. “Well, when your teammate dropped the ball and it cost us three runs. Or when you struck out and then popped out. Or when that other girl missed that easy out towards the end.”
“Oh, I don’t remember those.” Ashley’s eyebrows furls as she strains to remember the list of mistakes I presented to her. “Doesn’t matter, I had fun.” She concludes and turns away from me and continues her chat with her friend.
Later, as the sun sets in the distance and Ashley and I walk to the car I turn to her, “Do you like playing softball, Ashley?”
“I love it, Dad!” She beams.
“Do you love to win?”
“I love to play, Dad.” She smiles. “I love my teammates, I love my coaches, and I love the game.”
“Yeah, but do you love to win?” I ask again.
“Sure, winning is fun, but I love the game more.” Her eyes meet mine. “I just love being out here, Dad. Whether I’m playing or winning, I love to be out here and having fun and being with you.”
Her words resonate with me. I think about our conversation on the drive home. I realize that my definition of winning needs to be reconsidered. To me success is dependent on the outcome of the scoreboard, but to my daughter, success is dependent on her experience. My definition is quite narrow and robs me of the experience as my daughter’s definition is much broader and allows the nuances of life to be considered.
The moment she stepped on the pitcher’s mound and before she tossed her first pitch, she already won. She was doing what she loved with people that she loved. The scoreboard was inconsequential and did not affect her play. She played hard until the end and had a great time doing it. Once the game was over, she hugged her opponents wished them well and trotted off the field. She was happy she got the chance to experience another game with her friends.
I’m not a proponent of “everyone gets a trophy”; however, I am beginning to discover life outside the scoreboard and that the experience of competing and giving your best is the main point in sports and in life.
So what does it take to be a winner at life? My daughter is teaching me that a winner is someone who gives their best, becomes better at their craft, shows grace towards others, and most of all enjoys the experience!
I stroll into Ashley’s bedroom to kiss her goodnight. She asks me to lay down next her for a few moments. She’s not asked me to do that in a long time, so I hop on the bed next to her and stair up at the ceiling. Ashley turns to me and wraps her arm around my chest and kisses me on the cheek.
“Thanks for coaching me with softball, Dad. I love having your around at the games.”
“Me too.” I whisper back to her.
I take a deep breath and soak in her words, for in that moment I truly feel like a winner.