Raising Losers: Lessons From The Football Field

by Jessica Azar
Originally Published: 
Jessica Azar

This is the first year that either of my sons has played football, and it’s been a journey for all of us. When the first practice sessions rolled around, my boys (as well as over half of their team) had never played before; they didn’t really know the rules of the game, or even how to put on their football equipment. Luckily, they were blessed to have a patient coach who keeps in mind that 1) these are second, third, and and fourth-graders, and 2) This is supposed to be a fun learning experience.

Their coach has religiously followed the league guidelines on things like the number of practice hours allowed per week, which has shown the players the importance of rules and adhering to protocol, even if others are not. Our team started the year out with exactly 11 players, just enough to have a player in each position on the field with no backups or replacements. These boys have played both offense and defense with no breaks and only one other player (who joined the team later) to sub in and out in case someone gets hurt against teams with third and fourth strings. No kidding. Every other team they have played has had at least twice the number of players that our team does, and some of the teams have played their fourth-graders almost exclusively. We have two fourth-graders this year.

Each game has been a battle of David-and-Goliath-like proportions except David hasn’t won a single game. As a mother, this has been insanely hard to watch, because I know how far they’ve come and how hard they’ve worked to get where they are, yet they’ve been woefully outmatched week after week. With each turnover or fumble, I inwardly groan and hurt for them, and with each missed tackle, my hearts falls a bit. I’ve worried that they will be disappointed in themselves and will not want to try anything else new, fearing failure, when I see so much strength and ability within them.

Ultimately they’ve remained unfazed following all of these losses, continuing to line up excitedly at each game to run through the spirit line with their cheerleaders holding a paper sign. Don’t get me wrong, they want to win and they do care, but they haven’t let it affect their willingness to trudge back out to the field for practices and games each week, and I admire the hell out of them for that. We’ve applauded them on all that they’re learning and accomplishing as we continue to encourage them to keep going. It’s pretty fantastic to watch a group of kids successfully executing plays after being completely clueless at the start, and quite honestly, it inspires me.

I’ve told them that sometimes losing makes us work harder and enjoy winning that much more. Awaiting the chance to see them experience that first win, whether it be this year or the next, is like anticipating Christmas morning but not owning a calendar. The frustration of being unable to speed the process along for them and my inability to do anything except provide support has proven hard for this Type-A control-freak. Reminding myself that it’s up to them to seize hard-won lessons about rising from the ashes enables me to keep the situation in perspective, but I’ve realized that the boys aren’t the only ones growing through this season of disappointments.

It’s also my journey in that I’m being forced to learn how to let go; my role as a mother is shifting somewhat to that of a coach instead of all-protecting human shield. We are traveling side by side down the road of life, and I love using my own experiences to guide them, but I’m simultaneously entering a realm that’s unknown to me. Knowing that the failures and disappointments I’ve endured had a hand in shaping me into a driven, strong woman gives me hope that tough experiences will leave them stronger, but ultimately the choice is theirs.

Parenting isn’t just about teaching and guiding; it’s about personal growth as well. I’m choosing to brave the forest of new feelings while attempting to guide them through situations I’ve already navigated, and while daunting at times, it’s exhilarating to continue to grow personally through their growth. We’re both learning that just because you don’t win or succeed at something doesn’t make you a “loser” and that a failure can bring us closer to success. Raising individuals who grow from coming up short will be one of my most prized achievements, and even though my kids control the outcome through their choices, I’m coaching them with all that I’ve got.

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