Crest of a wave does not last

2014-09-18 00:00

WHY is it that these days, people are afraid to expose their children to what it means to lose? Not to win, to end up on the wrong end of a result, to be in the team that lost the cup final.

Surely, one of life’s biggest lessons to learn is how to deal with and face the fact that losing will rear its ugly head every so often. Like a surfer riding a wave, that wave, which can sometimes be as close to perfection as desired, will peter out and find its way to shore as another bulging mass of water. The thrill is brief but memorable, and the positive taken out of it is the fact that the ride could be enjoyed.

Such is the progress of life. A win in the Lotto, an upset result, an outsider romping home — if it gleans some cash in the back pocket, the moment itself is great, but it does not last forever. All too soon, the fortunes, be they big or small, disappear in a click of the fingers and life soon returns to the daily grind and battle.

However, it seems that the streak of competition has overcome the grace and humility associated with defeat, and nothing less than top spot will do.

Like a cancer, contests on the sports field, from schools to clubs to the hallowed international arenas, are seen as only worthwhile if a win is registered; otherwise the showdown is confined, rather meekly, to the files of uselessness.

A true test of the character of a team or player is how they deal with defeat. Sport, after all, is a contest and in most instances there is a loser.

It takes years, sometimes a lifetime, depending on what sport is involved, for teams and individuals to reach a certain level where they can compete for the biggest honour of all, but for one team, player or players, there will be loss.

It’s part and parcel of competing. Someone must come second. The trick is to value the opportunity to compete, rather than believe the saying that no one remembers who came second. Maybe they don’t, but at least the same stage was shared as the winner, something others were not good enough to achieve.

There is a fine line between losing and competing. The Springboks may have lost this past weekend, but they competed, they showed character, they matched the All Blacks in every department and they could still hold their heads high, despite coming second.

There is no disgrace in losing, but the real test, something that maketh the man, is how the loser responds, stands up, dusts down and calls on the fire in the soul to have another attempt.

Shying away from it all, sweeping it under the carpet, soon becomes a habit and moulds character, one of being unable to deal with the pressures and downs of life.

Success, particularly in sport, is like that wave that is ready to strike and dump the surfer into the water, letting him or her know that no matter how good he or she may think he or she is, perfection remains elusive, something never to be attained, regardless of how much work is put in.

A successful team or sportsperson sets the bar for those below to aspire to. While those under the bar continue to look up and plot their course to match the pace-setter, fate dictates that sooner or later someone will rise to the occasion and topple the kings and queens from their throne.

Look at Manchester United; for so long the immortals of English football. It was long a question of who would be second. Now, all of a sudden, they are really just human, with opposing teams stepping up to the plate in confidence to take them on.

Tennis has seen Roger Federer being beaten, golf throws up a different winner every week and the favourite is never always the first over the line.

Youngsters are being taught that it’s winning that matters. When they do, it’s shouted from the tree tops and beyond, everyone within earshot having no doubt of what has been achieved. It’s in the media for all to see. Suddenly, that same team loses and, like cockroaches, everyone scampers for cover, unable to face up to it.

It’s rather spineless and teaches those involved absolutely nothing about life. Divorce, child abuse, drinking — these are some of the off-shoots of not being able to deal with failure. It’s an important aspect of life, so let’s face up to it.

• David Knowles is a sports reporter at The Witness.

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