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PREP VOICES : REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK : Learning to Lose Graciously Is as Important as Learning to Win

March 23, 1994|MARTIN HENDERSON

Do we place too much emphasis on winning?

No. Understanding how to win is important. Knowing what it takes to set a goal and then reach it is invaluable in society.

Do we place too much emphasis on winning?

Yes. When a team reaches four consecutive Super Bowls and is branded a loser, our collective perception of winning is skewed.

Society is better served by a high school athlete who learns how to lose graciously than one willing to win at all costs.

That seems to be the problem with many of today's social ills, regardless of how small they might seem. The pursuit of victory develops the me-first attitude that permeates our society. I have grown up in the "Me Generation." Selfishness is the No. 1 problem in America today, and not just because we have stooped to allowing NBA players to compete in the Olympics.

Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan? Selfish.

Baseball owners? Selfish.

Sports franchise relocation? Selfish.

The stabbing of Monica Seles? Selfish.

Drivers who shoot at other drivers on the highway? Selfish.

Gangs recruiting their members? Selfish.

Turf wars? Selfish.

Israel-PLO? Selfish.

Erik and Lyle Menendez? Selfish.

Have a problem? Eliminate the competition. Have it your way.

Just win, Baby.

OK, you can't blame the Middle East on high school sports, but hear me out.

The most important function of our educational system is to advance a literate, clear-thinking society. But another function, whether education wants it or not, is to build character and help forge young citizens who appreciate winning, but are not consumed by it. The importance of practice and teamwork, of hard work and sacrifice, of preparation and strategy, of establishing viable working relationships despite interpersonal differences, are applicable to life beyond high school.

It is the high school athlete--as well as the coach or teacher--who is often the role model for the younger students in school.

Me? I looked up to Leonard Kadel, a senior at Olivehurst (Calif.) Lindhurst High while I was a freshman. Someone at Mater Dei is looking up to Miles Simon. Someone at Brea-Olinda is looking up to Nicole Erickson. And athletes aren't the only ones looking; there are others who it is hoped will appreciate the hard-work ethic that both those players exhibit.

It's important for everyone in society to know how to win. It's also important for everyone to know how to lose. When stories are made public of an entire junior varsity team threatened to be replaced because it lost one game it was expected to win, is that sending the right message or the wrong one?

Vince Lombardi is supposed to have said it: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." He was speaking of professional sports. I would hope that if Coach Lombardi were alive today, addressing your student body, he would amend that statement to: "Winning isn't everything."

It just isn't. There is failure in everyone's life. Learning to deal with it, learning how to move on, is terribly important. The best time to learn is while you're still young enough--and willing--to learn. Junior high and high school is a time when you're still young enough.

Might Angel reliever Donnie Moore still be alive had he been able to effectively deal with the home run he surrendered in the AL playoffs? Or, might he still be alive had fans been able to effectively deal with it?

I am surprised there haven't been more Donnie Moores, more people who crack under the pressure of losing.

I am not throwing away the importance of victory. I am not criticizing programs that yearly increase the standards of excellence in football, basketball, baseball or whatever.

But I refuse to indict those programs that are weak. For every team that wins, there is a team that loses. And the all-consuming desire to win creates asses in society. From my position as a sportswriter, I hear the comments of plenty of fans--parents, particularly--who are blinded by the pursuit of victory. I am embarrassed that somewhere on the playing field or court they have a child.

I sat next to a 15-year-old boy one game who cheered and jeered with every call for and against his team. At one point, the boy yelled at the referee, "You blew it, you . . . !"

Am I wrong to be worried? This was a high school girls' basketball game.

Of course, some people aren't concerned about what others think. And that's fine. But I have worked with those types of people and they are my least favorite. They are, typically, the most selfish. They are, typically, the ones who can't stand the thought of losing.

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