I spent the day Saturday ragging on Damon’s coach after their first soccer match of the season. After Damon’s team scored their second goal, one of his teammates asked if they were winning. The coach, who was doubling as a referee, replied, “Winning doesn’t matter.”
“Excuse me?!” I said, mainly to Christian, who was coaching his little brother from the sideline. “What did she say?”
I get where the coach was coming from. A long time ago, I played Little League baseball…badly. I got to play because the league said that the coach had to play me. Each game I served my one inning in right field. Most of that time was spent like Chelsea’s one-and-only soccer practice before she quit this year: I would rather be picking flowers (not literally for me, but for Chelsea...). As I stood out in that field, I prayed, as did my coaches, that the ball would never come my way.
I played for two years, one at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and one at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. My two experiences differed very little from each other. But the first year our team came in first place. The second year our team came in fourth place. First place was better.
I played baseball because my brother, Carl—who was still Cochise to me in those days—had played before me. Co experienced all of the pressure that led later parents to go easy on their kids. He was a good player, especially a good pitcher, but I think that, with Dad as his coach, Co never felt he was good enough. Dad had to change his tune by the time I started to play. There was no way to parlay my inability, uncoordination and disinterest into some winning prospect. The best he could do is to hope to get me on a good team and hope I didn’t ruin anything.
I later joined a basketball team of my own volition. I faired no better there, and like Chelsea, I quit pretty early on. But I learned that I liked basketball. It didn’t so much matter how good I was. I liked the game. So by the time I enrolled at Punahou School for my junior year of high school, I was beginning my days playing basketball with a ragtag bunch of classmates. Most of them were better and younger than me, but I still liked playing. I also liked winning.
And I later played basketball on teams or in pickup games, knowing that I would usually be the weakest player on the court. One of my fondest memories remains the day my older brother, Carl, and my younger brother, Keith, and I challenged some guys in a pickup game in Hawaii after my college graduation. My brothers are clearly better athletes than me. I don’t remember who won that game. I do remember that Carl missed a layup, Keith put it back up, I got his miss, and I made the basket. Whether or not we won, I saw myself as the hero—that time.
In my later single adulthood I also enjoyed shooting around by myself. I even used basketball as a sort of worship. I would bring my boombox to the outdoor court at the old Howard School. I’d blast Christian music and sing while I played. I met 12-year-old Josh and 8-year-old Anna that way. They lived across the street from the school. They came over together one day while I was shooting and singing. They introduced themselves and told me that they recognized my Christian music. They asked me where I went to church. Then without asking their parents, they invited me to the weekly Tuesday night dinner they had with close friends from their church. Josh and Anna symbolize basketball benefits that had nothing to do with competition. I had grown to enjoy basketball with or without the competitiveness.
Although I was largely unsuccessful in sports, I did grow up learning to compete, mainly with words. And in those competitions, winning was everything; I would not back down. The residuals of my competitiveness remain today. I like being right. And I like you believing that I am right—even if I’m not.
Then I face moments like this Sunday morning, when Pastor Stephen Handy talked about imitating the humility of Jesus. Again with that Jesus Talk! I loved that in our subsequent Sunday School class, Ken pointed out that Jesus is already a victor and that because of Jesus, we are victors too.
I’m still learning. I have discovered that winning doesn’t have to be everything in order for it to be anything. And in some situations, winning doesn’t even matter. Marriage has been my best laboratory for seeing that “winning doesn’t matter.” I’ve learned that there are some things—such as the relationships themselves—that matter more.
After Damon’s soccer game Saturday, an inattentive teammate asked who won. The coach said, “Nobody won.” I still think she is wrong (which would mean that I am right): Damon’s team won 4-0. It matters. But it's not all that matters.