Every human, no matter if they identify as an athlete, chef, politician, Pastor.. They all know that in life there are setbacks and disappointing moments. It is normal of course. If you look at the life of a chef. They create these amazing recipes garnering rave reviews in all the top cooking magazines. Before they got to that point is it not certain they spoiled a few, if not many meals? Let’s not be silly, any chef can tell you their horror stories that lead them to be the perfectionist they are today. The same goes for runners. I’ve had countless amounts of disappointing losses, horrendous workouts, injuries and DNF’s at races.
In the end, bad moments are pivotal in building the mentality of a winner. By winner I don’t mean just those that come across the finish line first, but rather those that do not quit or give up on a dream. I look back at my first Mountain Running National Championship victory and what I remember in the weeks leading up to that day were nothing remotely close to the expression on my face after taking the Gold on race day. When you succeed in life, your friends, media, and even strangers react to the expression you reveal at that moment. What they do not see are all moments of imperfection and disaster that are undoubtedly inevitable, present on the road to every conquest. The time leading up to my first Championship had familiar moments of failure all the way. I had some bad workouts and even a few unexpected poor performances that season. Learning to balance failure and use it to fuel goals serves a dish hard to swallow. At these times I look back on the day of one of my first major disappointments in sport and what my father said to me.
I played basketball for most of my life heading into High School and that was my love. I hated to lose in general whether it be a game we called “pencil fighting”, getting better grades in math class or just a foot race up the block. In my early years of ‘bball’ I landed myself on a team that I felt was a little mediocre. I got a little arrogant thinking I was the best and that I could carry that team even if we went up against a better team. The day came when we faced an opponent that I could not defeat on my own. In the end we lost (better yet, we got clobbered) and later while talking with my father I blamed my team for not being good enough to help “me” win. Dad was quick to let me know, you can’t win a team game without embracing and trusting your team. He also told me something even more valuable for individual sports such as the one I love and pursue today.
As I pouted on the car ride home he looks over and says to me, “this is not the first time you have lost and it won’t be the last time”. This loss was colossal to me. After what he had told me, I was not even able to be upset at my team. I almost felt uncomfortable blaming them in my own mind because I absolutely recognized my ignorance concerning the idea of teamwork. The whole “there is no ‘I’ in team” quote started to eat away at me. The season ended on a better note and I eventually learned to trust my teammates. We won some and lost a few, but I learned that having a team you can trust is more important than simply looking at a team as a means to an end. If you don’t feel you “need” anyone then you are setting yourself up to be a loser. Everyone needs someone to help them reach goals even in individual pursuits.
My father never really pushed the agenda of winning on me. I wanted to win just to see that smile my father was famous for. On weekends spent outside playing bball with my Dad and friends, my father would regularly “talk smack” to get you to make bad choices when it came time to battle. It was mental warfare. If you let him get a win on you, you could expect a moment of silence on his behalf followed by a big grin and maybe an “ooooh yeah baby” shortly after. In losing I was never disrespected or shown a lack of love or appreciation. In our weekly one-on-one games, whether I won or lost my Dad and I would always have a few sports drinks and some laughs on our way back to the house. When he lost it was never a big deal. I noticed he never really allowed a loss to affect him beyond that day. Being critiqued on my game decisions was regular, but never in a negative manner. In an honest fashion that allowed me to see exactly why mistakes were made. Humbling, but in the end, valuable. Humility is necessary to succeed at nearly every facet of sport. You will fail at times. If there is one thing humans have come to learn since we began our journey, it is that you will make mistakes. If you do not get over them, do not learn from them, lack humility, then you will continue to fail.
So, remember this if nothing at all during your next brush with disappointment. “This is not the first time and it won’t be the last” –Pops aka My Father