The Wide Angle: Winning, losing — 2 sides of the same coin

Published 7:01 am Sunday, October 16, 2016

We all like winning. Winning is fun, it’s exhilarating it allows us to do absurd dances, and because we are winning they aren’t so absurd.

Winning allows people to look past mistakes that otherwise would be dwelled upon if we were losing.

Losing on the other hand is not fun. Nobody likes to lose. It doesn’t allow us to dance absurdly and for some of us — that’s maybe not such a bad thing. Yeah, I’m looking at you.

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The key in all of this, however, is how you handle both sides of this coin. Both winning and losing take certain levels of grace and poise and that becomes especially true at the high school and youth levels.

There, teaching winning and losing becomes a foundation that can extend onwards into life where winning is never guaranteed and losing is a fact of life.

For some of our area athletes it would be easy to get carried away with winning because they do it often, but that doesn’t happen because from coaches on down there is respect for the game and that carries over to respect for other athletes.

It won’t always look like that on paper and for those looking only for a score, the full truth of the game will be just out of reach.

A prime example of how this respect works can be seen in the Austin boys soccer program. In Tuesday night’s 12-0 win over Caledonia in the Section 1A Tournament, the score alone would be enough to cause many to cringe.

A double-digit number next to a zero in soccer is a blowout. There are no other words for it, but beneath the score you see how coach Jens Levisen handles his team, creating a trickle-down that works its way down to the players.

First and foremost, the Packers played to win, the goal of every sports program. To win meant their season continues, to lose means the season is over. One and done.

The Packers jumped to a very quick and lop-sided lead over Caledonia, a lead that from the start was clear wouldn’t be overcome.

This is where Levisen and the team showed that winning with grace is always possible. He pulled starters, gave other kids a chance and used the opportunity to work on things in a game setting.

“We’d done enough right away that it was very clear where our level was at compared to them. Not in a disrespectful way, but you could see where things were at,” Levisen had said afterwards. “We did some things to get some guys some time and get younger guys some time in positions they may be in next year. They kept it respectful and we didn’t have any cheap shots.”

The players themselves kept that same level of respect, helping Caledonia players up, shaking hands during the game and being gracious. It’s a hallmark of Levisen’s program. Above all else, win with dignity.

The same can be found in Grand Meadow where the Superlarks football team is gunning for a fourth-straight Nine Man state title. A vast majority of their wins have been lopsided, the benefit of a program with plenty of talented athletes enjoying the fruits of hard work.

I’ve heard it said often that the Larks run scores up on opponents, but I’ve seen many GM games, on the sidelines with players and coaches during this time period. The score is never the full story. Starters often come out in the second quarter if the score is a runaway. Coach Gary Sloan begins working in younger players, getting them not only valuable experience, but a chance to play.

Now sometimes the score continues to go up, especially when they are playing teams with low numbers that often times incorporate players as young as eighth-grade.

Much like the running the score up claims, I’ve also heard voices suggesting they just stop trying to score, but there’s a couple problems here. You can’t stop scoring. That defeats the reasons we’re playing the games in the first place and quite simply taking that path isn’t fair to the kids who maybe don’t get to play often. They want to be part of it as much as the starter. You can do things to minimize of course, and that’s fine, but you have to let them be part of the game.

Perhaps one of the neatest things I saw was just the other day when Austin hosted a cross country invite.

It was towards the end of the day and the last race — the boys race — was nearing its end. Runners were trickling in, people were beginning to leave or meet up with their kids, leaving the finish line pretty bare of spectators.

But the chase cart, marking the end of the race, hadn’t returned yet which meant there was at least one more runner. Soon enough that runner finally came into view. Like a good competitor he turned it on as best he could for a strong showing and that’s when I noticed Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Southland runners Peter Torkelson and Mason Heimer still at the finish line.

The two had finished early on — Torkelson taking fourth and Heimer finishing 23 — but still they remained at the finish line greeting, applauding and high-fiving runners as they crossed.

They could have left, but they chose to stay displaying a character that not only reflects on them but the program as a whole.

These are all just examples of course. In my profession I see sportsmanship displayed in hundreds of examples through a season.

I’ve seen it both with the losers and winners. As I said earlier losing is just a fact of life. You’re not always going to win, so you have to turn inwards. What can you do to better yourself, better your team?

And there are moments where losing will be ugly, will be heartbreaking and it will not be fun, but you would be surprised how far attitude will get you.

This is more than just setting an example on the field. This is setting an example for life. Winning and losing is more than a score. Winning is a mindset and to win a game you must also win life and understand that often times not only can you win in victory, but you can also win in a loss.