Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winners, Losers, Sports, Kids, and Adult Children: Taking Lemons and Making Lemonade

A young and talented writer I know had entered a essay contest. The winners were to be awarded a cash prize, the sum of which was to be divided up amongst the top five contestants. My writer friend was hoping that he could win part of that cash to visit Japan and extend his studies.

LIke I said, he is a talented writer and, in spite of very heavy and fierce competition, he placed fifth amongst thousands of contestants. 

Well done!

He was thrilled. Well, thrilled, that is, of course, until after the winners were announced with a tiny minor detail change: Due to budget cuts, the top five winners wouldn't share the prize money, only the top two winners would share in the prize money. 

Naturally he was disappointed. The contest organizers had broken a promise.

My friend wrote to me about his disappointment and this is what I wrote back:

Dear Peter,

Fifth place is excellent and you have nothing to be sad about. Sure, the prize part of the deal didn't turn out as you were promised, but take that as a lesson in life too... Often times things do not turn out as expected.

It seems to me that we learn these lessons well when we are entering the transition world from school to supposedly gainful employment.

Let me tell you about my own experience that your story reminds me of. But first, some background....

When I was a child we were pretty poor. 

As a child in the sixties I lived with my mom and dad and two brothers. I don't know how my mom made do. My father was merely a low paid US marine sergeant, who was always away from home as the Vietnam War was in full swing. We didn't have much yet my mother was somehow able to always give us enough and, while we didn't feast like kings, we had enough to eat. 

Like I said, my father was rarely home so I was raised by dear old mom.

As I got older, I realized how clever my mother was. She was smart and adroit enough at finances to turn my father's meager salary into buying a house and flipping it over to a bigger house each time on three separate occasions.

Even to this day, I am amazed when I think about how well my mother was able to make do with a very limited amount of resources. Anyhow, as you can guess most of my very early formative years were spent being raised by my mom.

But I digress....

When I got older and graduated from school, I got a high paying job. I was so thankful for that and have always tried to remember where I came from and who I am. It is for this reason that I have always felt that I should "give back" to society. I wanted to help kids and especially those who didn't share time with their fathers.

I started coaching 8 year olds in basketball and soccer... Most of those kids came from broken homes and I wanted to help them have fun and do sports and not be such a dorky kid that couldn't do three push-ups like me.

If you've ever coached a kids sports team, then you'll know how really smelly the entire league operation can be. Basically, it seems to me that a bunch of dads get together and make the league. Then, they have "trials" whereby the dads who set the league up take the pick of the best and most athletic kids and start the league from there.

The non-athletic kids (mostly the ones who came from broken homes and didn't have a dad around to teach them how to throw or catch a ball like yours truly) were left off the teams. Then, the local city youth department would hunt down people to volunteer as coach. There was always a shortage of coaches so there were always a few hundred kids left off of teams with no chance to play.

Pretty pathetic when you stop to think about it, eh?

That also meant that people like me got the kids who were to be on a team that was a punching bag for the teams coached by the dads who had already taken the most athletic kids...

So much for teaching kids about "Sportsmanship."

If these parents really were interested in Sportsmanship and fair play, they make the team selection random and by drawing. Of course, their own child should be on dad's team... But the entire purpose and rationale of a city run youth sports department (that is funded with our taxes) is to allow all kids a chance to play. Not a select few.

Anyway, one year, I started coaching 8-year-olds in basketball with my best friend Jeff. Jeff and I were both in our early 20s. Most dads were in their 40s or 50s. Jeff and I had brothers and, through that life experience, we knew that to get good at sports, the best way to teach kids was to have them play with older, bigger, stronger and faster kids.

So we played basketball with them. Our kids, through this coaching style, got really good, really fast. We took a bunch of mediocre athletic kids and turned them into a powerhouse team. 

Halfway through the season, we played the best team. They were undefeated (and coached by a dad who started the league so they had all the best kids). We had already lost two games but when we played them, we defeated them by one point in a tough and tight battle.

We were ecstatic. The kids were exhausted. The league and other coaches were in disbelief.

Anyhow, in that basketball league, the rules at the start of the season were that the top 4 teams played off for the championships at the end of the season.  By some miracle our team finished 4th and was to only team to beat the #1 team in the league.

They had only suffered one defeat, from us. We were sure we could beat them again in the playoffs and pull off a championship.

It was not to be, though.

What did the dads running the league do? They changed the rules before the last game of regular season so that only the top 2 teams played off. We were pissed off. We were ripped off. They lied to us.

Of course the top team, the one we had beaten, went on to win the championship. Pretty sh*tty, eh?

Those kids were great players and they won the championship. But their fathers were a bunch of losers.

Many kids sports leagues are a similarly disgusting affair. They are a reflection of what's wrong with our society and many organizations, people and clubs.

Nevertheless, we were happy about the experience and, after the final game, we had a pizza party for the kids. 

There, one of the least athletic kids came up to me and he said, "Coach Mike. You are the best coach I have ever had and I will never ever forget you. Thank you."

It brought a tear to my eye. It still does.

So to my writer friend who has his victory taken away, to my kids that I coached and to you, dear reader, who has sometimes had what was promised taken away, let me say, 

Fear not! You have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of. Sometimes life hands you lemons... But the truly wonderful and successful people take those and make lemonade. Winners take these experiences and use them to improve.

With each effort, the victory is just one step closer. Keep on at it and your day will come just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow.

For Peter Dyloco


Andrew Joseph said...

I coached girl soccer for about 8 years until I quit before going to Japan. i chose girls soccer because they always seemed to get the short end of the stick - an after thought when it came to getting good coaches and proper fields to play on. My friend Rob and I changed that. We molded girl's soccer into a force. Merged two OTHER leagues into ours by using a marketing plan I wrote as part of a college course I was taking while doing daytime POLY Sci at University.
But I digress... I just wanted to tell you how the parents were generally well-behaved folks... but there was one mother, who had a girl on my team who was a pig. not only did she yell at and put her own daughter down during the games, but she started doing the same to other girls on the team. By this tie I was coaching 13-year-olds. I can't really stop a parent from yelling at her own kid, but I did yell at her for yelling at my other kids. Actually... as a then-22-yr-old, I calmly told her off, saying I couldn't do anything about her verbally abusing her own child, but I won't stand for verbally abusing anyone else's. I did it loud enough so that all of the other parents could hear me. I have a loud/big mouth. At the end of the game, all of the parents came over to thank me. At the enxt game.. that mother was nowhere to be seen... but her daughter (my player) came over to thank me. She said her mom had no idea she was being so destructive and was now too ashamed to come to the games... but the girl noted that she and her mom had been talking positively since then. I called her mom up the next day and begged her to come to the game. When I saw her, she came up to the team and apologized. They ALL gave her a big hug... and I admit I did the same. Not all parents are assholes. Some actually want what's best for everybody.

mikeintokyorogers said...

Wow! Andrew! That's a great story! You are a hero! Thanks so much. Actually I do have a similar story. I will try to relate that, but I don't think I can say any better than you did.

Executive Search said...

You have so many layers of depth. Knowing you as I do I shouldn't be amazed, but still...
great story with a great moral.
Thank you for sharing!