The fall sports season has come to a close for Liberty Bell students, and I know that not all of the final contests ended up the way the student athletes hoped they would. As a parent — and especially one who didn’t play sports until college — it’s hard to know to respond to your child’s sadness after a game or race or season that didn’t end in triumph. You feel sad — not that they didn’t win, but that their joy in an otherwise highly successful season is, temporarily at least, obscured by a single defeat.
I’m speaking specifically of the girls’ state quarterfinals soccer game on Saturday (where, after winning the district championship last week, the Lady Lions were eliminated from the bracket for the state title), but I think this general sentiment may ring true for any parents who are unsure of how to help our kids put these feelings of sports-related frustration in perspective.
What our kids don’t know is that when we see them after a game, dejected from a disappointing finish, we don’t see a team that failed to advance to the state finals. We don’t see a series of missed opportunities to make a goal, to get to the ball faster, to block a kick. What we see are 23 young women who aren’t afraid to lean in to a challenge. Who put their shoulders to their opponents’ and keep up the pressure. Who commit themselves to the field out of a sense of accountability to the other girls on the team, a respect for their coaches, and, most importantly, a pure love of the game.
What they don’t know is that we are so proud of them — not for goals or league standings or state trophies, but instead for their integrity and sportsmanship on the field. For the way they support each other in the best way possible. For recognizing that they are strongest together and for acting in a way that honors this collective force. For the sense of unity and camaraderie they nurture amongst themselves. For the unmitigated encouragement they give each other. For their gratitude, for their laughter and their inside jokes, for the language they’ve developed to communicate with each other with a minimum of words when necessary, and an abundance when not. For their willingness to risk failure against the chance to experience the thrill of victory.
What they don’t know is that they already somehow intuitively grasp one of life’s bigger lessons: that there is a powerful beauty in the ability to embrace both triumph and defeat, and that the bulk of the events in our lives lie well between those two extremes. What they don’t know is that long after the memory of this particular game, this particular season, have faded, what they will always remember is this: that they feel most alive when something matters, and that in spite of everything else, it’s worth it to care.