Rocky Hulne: How to deal with the pain of the final defeat

Published 5:31 pm Friday, June 14, 2024

What do you say to a senior athlete who just watched their dreams slip away in the blink of an eye?

You can wish them well, tell them things will get better or even try to tell them it wasn’t their fault that the game didn’t go their way.

As someone who has covered sports for two decades, I can tell you none of these things will help, and that’s OK. Sometimes you just have to let the pain sink in and run its course.

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As time passes, that pain will go away but the lesson will always remain.

We don’t always get what we want in life.

It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn, especially in a society where we are told that if we work hard enough, our dreams will come true. I’m not saying hard work doesn’t pay off, in fact it certainly does. But hard work does not guarantee that you will become the best at what you do.

There may be a more fit competitor, a random circumstance that doesn’t go your way, or an unexplainable miscue on your own end that throws that dream away in an instant.

While it’s OK to feel the sting of the shortcoming, the trick is to accept it and move on.

There is an old quote from Steve Jobs that said “the journey is the reward” and this rings true. In a sports culture that is obsessed with championships and Division I scholarships, it’s crucial to appreciate the little things.

Think about the younger sibling having the time of their life cheering on their older brother or sister as mom and dad watch each play on the edge of their seat.

How about the teacher who knows those sports are the one thing keeping their students disciplined enough to stay invested in their studies?

There is also the alumni and the community who come to every game with joy and support.

Think about the bond built with teammates.

Sports are so much bigger than the final outcome of the game.

Now let’s go back to my original question. What do you tell that heartbroken athlete?

Maybe the answer is nothing. A hug or a pat on the back may be all you can offer them at that moment.

Let them feel it and let them take it in.

That moment will make them stronger and wiser in the end.