Monday, February 22, 2010

Agony of Defeat

In Vancouver, Lindsey Vonn had to settle for the bronze on Saturday.

Here in our little corner of Oregon, Nate did, too. He raced a GS course, not a Super G, but his competition was every bit as steep (relatively speaking, of course). I imagine the defeat tasted bitter in both their mouths.

You're probably thinking, 'but bronze is good! What's wrong with 3rd?' At least as far as a ten-year-old non-Olympic-aspiring downhill racer is concerned. And you'd be right. Nothing is wrong with third.

Unless your eyes are set on first.

And therein lies the sharp edge that is individualized sports: defeat is in plentiful supply. Unless you're at the very top of that podium, the harsh truth is, you didn't win. And if memory serves, Nate 'hasn't won' (in his eyes) for three races in a row. He's finished in 3rd behind two of his friends race after race. And that defeat, easy to bear early on, is understandably starting to fester.

Maybe I'm a rotten mom for letting him taste it so early and so often. But I don't think so. Because these boys are all of ten years old. And all too often, I see them measure themselves by those around them--the competition--instead of looking inward, setting their eyes on their own personal best. It's evident at the finish line, as they slide to a stop and listen intently to their time. As they hike to the result board, scanning the list and doing the math. It's entirely too easy for them to look left, and look right--at their close friends and perceived foes--and come to conclusions about themselves. They don't have the perspective to understand this now, but they have nowhere to go but up, and up, and up. All of them.

But maybe not this weekend. Not for Nate. Yesterday, on the heels of his Saturday bronze, he fell into 4th. And he swallowed hard, and then smiled, and told me he was proud of himself. And then, later last night under cover of blankets, he had a good, quiet, private cry.

Because falling short--working hard, and doing everything right but not measuring up--is part of life.

A scary part. A part that makes you feel helpless and unarmed, like you're tripping and can't catch yourself. We've all experienced it. And maybe some parents would shield their ten-year-old from such a feeling. But as hard as it is to see him struggle, tensed in that starting gate week after week, I'd rather Nate learn to roll with those punches. I'd rather he become practiced in the art of trying, and losing, and smiling and congratulating his competition gracefully, and then trying again.

He'll come out on top, one way or another.

I'm guest posting today at Parenting By Dummies. Come on by!

This post is part of Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky; sometimes, you have to unwrap the difficult stuff as well as the beauty.
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