Winning and Losing; A Model of Cooperation

Everybody doesn't win. Though motivational speakers might try to convince us that we are all winners, it just can't be reconciled with reality. Two or three decades ago, well-meaning parents and coaches began handing out medals and trophies to every youngster who participated in athletic games which so clearly had winning and losing sides. Their altruistic desire didn't really work out, mainly because it was the grown-ups who placed greatest significance on awards, not the children. For kids, the goal of winning is not to make losers of their opponents. Winning, and the awards received at the end of a tournament are a mark of achievement through hard work, training, and dedication. It is the strict dualistic thinking of adults that labels losing as a failure. The "everybody-is-a-winner" practice is simply overprotective and unnecessary.

Each August, my wife and I anticipate the Little League World Series which exemplifies competition at its' very best. This contest is a perfect example of how we might restructure our attitudes about winners and losers. And the young players are our teachers. Members from opposing teams hug each other, congratulate each other, and console each other. They celebrate as a community showing us that victory has many facets, only one of which is winning the contest. I can't imagine any player leaving Williamsport feeling like a "loser". In fact, the 2019 Little League World Champions, Louisiana’s East Bank All Stars, emerged from the so-called losers bracket to take the title.

Victory Winning and Losing.png

In the larger grown-up arena, when our political leaders, or others, apply a ‘loser’ label to an individual group, it is an attempt to project weakness and failure upon them. Any sense of community is destroyed. They are sending a message that the highest purpose in life is to win at any cost. This fiercely divisive drive for superiority wipes out the possibility of cooperation. Intolerance of inferiors festers into an us-versus-them culture. And us-versus-them is not only a failure of imagination but the worst kind of lie. We are all in this struggle together. In the end it's still all about how we cooperate and play the game. Perhaps New Jersey Little League manager Jairo Labrador demonstrated the joy of connection found in simply playing or lose. After his team was eliminated, he gathering his boys around him saying; "For the rest of my life, I'm proud that you guys get to call me coach." Now there is a life lesson if I ever heard one.