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Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Winners and Losers
"Rest assured, Commander. We will be victorious, at whatever the cost."
"Worf, it's just a game, a friendly little competition. You work up a sweat, you have a few laughs and you make new friends."
"If winning is not important, then Commander, why keep score?"
-- Worf and Riker in Star Trek:The Next Generation "11001001"

I've always enjoyed this little exchange between Riker and Worf from the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's one that made me laugh the first time I heard it and it still amuses me to this day.

But I will admit that this little snippet of dialogue from Next Generation also highlights a bit of a truth about myself--I hate losing. I'm not a big fan of it all. I don't really think any of us are. At no point, do we go into a competitive situation and say, "You know, I think I'm going to work hard and lose today." In most cases, all of us go into a competitive situation wanting to win.

Now, I have met people in my life who are more competitive than I am. My friend Debby and her brother Bob are among them. Right after I'd first met them, we all played a friendly game of Monopoly. If by friendly you mean devious. I made a mistake that day...I sat back and let the two of them duke it out for the power and control of the game while I flew under the radar and ended up winning the game. I honestly don't think either one of them has forgiven me for this and I blame my winning the game early on in our friendshp as the reason that Debby never really was all that interested in dating me seriously.

But I do have that competitive instict. I like to win. I far prefer it to losing. Like Worf, I wonder why if winning isn't important, why do we keep score?

This may be why I like Captain Kirk and why Star Trek II resonates with me so. I mean, other than it just being one heck of a great film. In the movie, we find out that in his Acadamy days, Kirk was faced with a test that presented a no-win situation. Instead of accepting that there was no way to win, Kirk changed the rules, thus ensuring he could win. This was consistent with the Kirk we'd seen in the series, who no matter what the situation was, he could pull a win out of the hat at the last possible moment, thus saving the Enterprise every single time. (OK, he lost a lot of red shirts, but you get what I'm saying here). As the movie progresses, we see Kirk put into a real-life no-win situation and how he deals with it. In the end, Kirk wins the day but loses something more--he loses his friend Spock who sacrifices himself to save his ship and crewmates.

In the end, it's not winning that defines us, it's how we win.

One of the great things that organized sports teaches us as young people is not only how to win but also how to lose. We learn how to be good sports, how to give our all on the field and how to walk away proudly. We learn how to be gracious in victory as well as defeat. In fact, I'd almost argue that sometimes learning how to be a gracious winner is just as important as learning how to be a gracious loser.

I remember a couple of years ago, after years of struggle, the church's softball team I played for went undefeated over the course of a season. I was proud to be part of that team. Not because we were undefeated but because of the way we won. Everyone had a role on the team, everyone got playing time, everyone supported each other. We were not the best individual talent out there, but we were the best team. I remember observing other teams and seeing how they had good individual players who tried to drive for the fences every time they were up, but missed the team concept. As a batter, I know I don't have the power I'd like to drive one to the fences. But I'm happy to get on base and see what happens from there. I am content to help my teammates and to let them help me. And in the field, our team played well together. We weren't a well-oiled machine, but we did the small things right so that we could get the outs we needed in order to play. We were a team in every sense of the word and I loved it.

Now, I'm playing softball again and, quite frankly, it's not the same. Different church, different league. And yet, I honestly feel as though this is just a collection of guys who are, for the most part, more concerned with individual accolades and achievement than being part of a team. And while we're at .500 for the season, I'm not sure winning is worth the price. People are feeling aliennated and bitter. Several of us are left to sit the bench while ringers are brought in to run up the score and make plays. Certain players get preferrential treatment because they have greater ability than others of us who are out there just to have fun. We complain about the officiating, which I admit can be bad, but it's easy to forget these guys are human too. All of our games are double headers so there is ample opportunity for guys to get into both games. But I get a bit upset and angry when guys who I've never seen before show up and get to play both games while I sit the bench. I can keep score from my days as sport editor, but honestly I can sit at home, watching a Braves game and keep score. I didn't come out to keep score. Don't get me wrong--I want to help out and be a team player, but I came to play not to be score keeper.

I've been having a debate with myself of late. Am I ticked off that there are people who are just better than I am? Yeah, sure I will admit part of me hates not being the best. But I think what I dislike more is that I'm not given a chance to play any type of role with the team. I see other guys out there, making flubs and mistakes like I would and can do. So, I think--why not me? What do they offer that I don't? Why are they given priority of playing over me? Is it that they've been members of the church longer? And why is it that when I'm put into a game I feel like I'm being thrown a bone? (Well, he did come out so I guess we HAVE to use him somehow).

Which is why I've asked myself--is winning really worth it? Would I take being winless and having a team attitude over being .500 and having division within the team?

Also, I have to seriously assess--am I having any fun? And the growing answer is, "no." Instead of being fun, the games are turning into two hours of anger, bitterness and resentment, leading me to consider quitting the team. Which pains me as I'm not, in general, a quitter. If I give my word, I want to come through and make good on it.

We've only got two more weeks left of the season. And yet I have a nagging suspicion in that we're still bringing in players to an allegedly closed roster (and if I had to pay money to play and they didn't I will be really upset), my playing time will be less and less. So, I may not play next season when the call for softball goes out. Which really sucks as it's something I enjoy doing and I'm having to give it up.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/01/2005 08:26:00 AM | |
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