Zen and the Art of Losing
Early this season, my daughter’s basketball team got tangled in a real ugly game.
The other team’s coach was pushing very aggressive play, which not only got our team in foul trouble, it knocked out one of his players with concussion protocol. With the game in hand, he called for full-court presses.
Such is the lust for winning.
I used to work for a guy who was one of these if-you-ain’t-winning-you’re-losing types. It was a bad fit from the start. But, he was also one of these work-should-be-fun guys and filled the office with games. One of those games was foosball.
I was taught the game by a Zen foosball master, and I ruled that office’s table. My boss became obsessed with beating me. He’d barge into my office and bark “Sauer, NOW!” And, I would win, every single time. I am certain that my foosball play was the only thing that kept me employed.
My boss was a good player, but he had a critical weakness: He mistook fear of losing with a desire to win.
Foosball is a fast game where you need to relax and trust yourself. The more baggage you bring, such as fear, the harder it is to win.
So, to keep my job, I had to win. And, to win, I had to make him afraid to lose. I would talk trash. I’d call my shots. Sometimes, I’d walk away a second before the game-winning goal hit the back of the table. He hated that.
It worked. I held on to that job until I was able to extricate myself. The day after I left, he threw the foosball table into the dumpster.
Games are fun, and winning hard-fought games feels awesome. Although they might be good tests of intellect and skills, games are not reliable measures of a life (sore losers and ugly winners notwithstanding.) More than as a means to boost one’s self-esteem, the best games serve as powerful paradigms to understand a chaotic world. They may have stung, but the most memorable and meaningful lessons I’ve learned from any games have followed losses.
Which brings me back to my daughter’s basketball team. Since the loss to that team with the obnoxious coach, the team has gotten better, top to bottom. They’ve even become good at breaking the press.
There’s a chance that her team might face that other team in the championship tournament. If that happens, they’ll be a different team than the one at the start of the season.
And, maybe they can help teach some lessons of their own to their overzealous opponent.