A Gracious Loser

Philippians 2:   Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 Competitive athletes have a serious dilemma they have to work through.  Aside from physical advantages such as talent, size or strength, successful athletes usually have a mental advantage over their competitors.  That advantage is usually that they hate losing more than anyone else.  I can relate to that.  My father has an old movie reel taken up at our cottage.  It was movie in which my older siblings and I were all sawing a piece of wood.  My sister and brother finished theirs fairly quickly but I was probably six years old and was having a tough time on this particular log.  The movie clip moves away from me multiple times filming other visitors and relatives and comes back to me still sawing away with a strained look on my face.  In the final shot my dad returns to me and the log fell into two.  I had won.

I can’t say I specifically remember that day, but I don’t need to.  I know why I kept sawing.  I hated losing, even if it was to a log.  Most people cannot understand that, and that’s okay, in fact that’s pretty reasonable.  But every serious athlete fully understands it.  That same hate of losing ensured that I walked off the soccer pitch exhausted after every game, and that I crossed every finish line knowing I had given my all, which often led to winning.  To this day when I play pick up soccer or ball hockey, I cannot simply watch someone run by me with the ball on the way to the net, even if they are 30 years younger.  Even if I’m coughing up a lung, something in my mind says, you can’t just stand there and watch.

I believe that this competitive mental attribute is a good one.  It has helped me not only in sport but also in life – in very difficult times in business, or even in personal situations, where most would have given up.  The challenge, the dilemma that I spoke of is this: what happens when you lose?  If you hate losing, how do you react when you do?  Unfortunately, as a Christian, if you are a poor loser any positive witness, any bright light you desire to shine can be very quickly extinguished.

The famous NFL coach Vince Lombardi had a couple quotes which in many ways have become the mantra in today’s ultra-competitive world.  He said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, and “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”.  Some would suggest that this attitude is necessary to be a champion, but I don’t believe it is.  Furthermore, there can only be one winner on a given day so what happens to the rest?  Are the rest losers in life?  This attitude certainly would lead to a great deal of depression for the vast majority of competitors.

I believe the key is being a “gracious” loser.  For me I realized that if I put in my very best effort, then I could walk away from any game or any race with my head held high.  The greater challenge, however, was my attitude towards the winners.  Being happy or at least indifferent toward the winner is not difficult if you put no effort in, but what if you did give it your all but still lost?  It is Christ in you who you need to rely on in these times.  If we listen to the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the Philippian church he instructs us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philip. 2: 3-4).  If we can truly develop this attitude, which grows as we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we can give our very best at the sport we pursue, yet be genuinely happy for others for their victories, even in our defeat.  This is an extremely difficult concept to wrap our heads around as competitive athletes, but it is the attitude of our saviour and one which will make you a light in a very dark world.  It is one significant sign of spiritual maturity.

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