Earlier this afternoon I watched my 10-year-old son and his team suffer a crushing loss in the championship game of a baseball tournament in which they played their collective hearts out. We were up three runs going into the bottom of the final inning, but we couldn’t hold the lead and came up short. It was one of the greatest battles I have ever witnessed between two teams at this age level, but at the end of the day we simply did not get the job done.
By no means was this loss due to a lack of effort on any level; these kids left it all on the field for three hard-fought games today and came within an out of winning it all. It just came down to the fact that the other team’s best was better than our best today.
So as a father, what do you say to your son after he has just had his heart broken on a level far beyond anything he has ever experienced in his young life? How do you tell a kid to just “shake it off” and “you’ll get ‘em next time” when his heart aches and he is overwhelmed by his feelings? In this situation, you don’t.
As painful as it was to experience this loss watching from the stands, and as proud as I was of my son and his teammates today, this is not a situation that you just shake off. This hurts. Deeply. Why not just console him with some comforting but empty words? Because this is supposed to hurt. This is life.
Rarely does life present such a perfect opportunity to teach the most important of lessons. This is not a moment to be wasted on excuses or self pity; this is a moment that will stick with him forever, and it will shape him as a person. This is the moment when he learns that simply “trying your hardest” doesn’t always cut it.
Like it or not, we live a world where we seem to want to give everyone trophies just for participating, and as much as I’d love to watch my son win every game he plays, the sting of losing is something that I want him to feel deeply and never forget. I want him to always remember this moment and how bad losing feels so that he appreciates winning and never takes it for granted. I want him to understand that nothing is ever handed to us in life. This is the moment when he learns that in the real world there are winners and there are losers, and the winners are the ones who walk away with the big trophies.
I would never wish this agony on anyone. I feel the pain of all nine of these boys, especially my son. But this will not be the last time he experiences the pain of defeat. I signed up for this as a parent, and now it’s my job to not let this moment go to waste as the life lessons to be taught will last forever. This pain is just an inevitable part of life that we have to confront head on and learn from. So when I see my son tonight, I will give him the biggest hug I’ve ever given him, I will tell him how proud I am of him, but I won’t tell him to just “shake it off.” He needs to feel this. There’s no room on the shelf for participation trophies.