By Sue Murphy
The U.S. women’s soccer team got a lot of flak for being over-enthusiastic winners this season. They won the World Cup, thank you very much, so I guess they were entitled to gloat just a bit. Still, running up the score and dancing with joy pretty much puts a target on your back for next season.
Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., we’re getting ready to kick-off the other kind of football season. Every team starts with high hopes, but the truth of the matter is that only one team is going to win the national championship and everyone else is going to lose at some point.
Losing is the necessary side effect of winning. That’s the way competition works. You’re trying to find out who is the best at something, which, in turn, demonstrates that everyone else is not. A lot of people get a thrill out of competition, so much so that we choose to compete in all kinds of arenas. Over the summer, I met a man who won numerous medals for throwing darts in Australia and a woman who traveled to Ireland to compete in an oyster-shucking contest where she won a medal for plate cleanliness. To be sure, each of these proud winners left a trail of losers in their wake.
I’ve never been a very good loser. Over time, I did graduate from stomping and crying to smiling while I plotted my comeback revenge, but neither one of these was a very generous response. The real challenge in competing at all is to be able to handle both the winning and losing ends of it with style and grace.
Look at the Academy Awards, or the CMA Awards, or even the Pillsbury Bake-Off. The split screen cameras zoom in on each nominee’s face. When the winner is announced, the losers had better be seen to be smiling and clapping and the winner must say that it was an honor to even be mentioned with his or her competitors. Everyone knows the script. They may all go home and throw their Jimmy Choos at the television but to behave otherwise would make them tabloid fodder the next morning.
But, back to the gridiron. Even when the odds are stacked against them – when the Crested Cranes are overwhelmingly favored to win – on any given Saturday or Sunday or the odd Thursday or Friday night, the underdog River Otters could emerge victorious, so it would make good PR sense for both teams to practice their on-camera persona for winning and losing right along with those punts, passes and kicks.
I’ll admit, it’s hard to imagine a coach sitting the team down and saying, “OK, fellow Roadrunners (or Ducks or Banana Slugs), today we’re going to practice how we behave when we lose.” It might seem like you were putting forth a vote of no-confidence. Maybe the players could be given a handout with Goofus and Gallant response alternatives to peruse at home, or even better, an interactive computer course with facial expression recognition where they could practice appropriate reactions after practice was over. There could be side lessons in talking to the press, with praise-winning phrases like “It was a full team effort” and postures to avoid like “If he hadn’t missed that block,” which I’m guessing would also make the front line a little less likely to have your back in the future.
Being braggadocios appears unkind to the opposite team. Being a sore loser makes you look like a petulant child. Winning at losing. Just an idea.