When I was a wee lad growing up in Georgia, there were only two ways to participate in organized sports: baseball and football. No soccer. No lacrosse. Not even basketball. That sounds bad, but consider this: there were no options if you were a girl. Apparently, girls were supposed to be cheerleaders or play with dolls or bake mudpies with their EZ-Bake ovens or something.
The first year I played I was a tight end (shut up) for the Cataula Bulldogs. The team was comprised of about three real players and a bunch of kids who had no idea what they were doing. I was firmly in the latter group, and pretty far down the list at that. We were terrible. We finished the season 0-6 and scored one touchdown the entire year. We couldn't tackle, block, cover, throw the ball, run the ball, or successfully count change at the concession stand after the game.
Before each game ended we expected to lose. After each game we were humiliated. We sucked hard and we knew it. But each week a funny thing happened. After an hour or so we all forgot about the outcome of the game. We showed up at practice and worked hard. We looked forward to the games because they were fun. We'd show up at the field (no one ever missed a week, or at least it seemed that way) ready to play. We'd get killed. Lather, rinse, repeat.
After the season there was no talk of our crushed self esteem. We went on with our summer lives and dreaded the end of summer; for me the end meant no more expeditions into the woods behind my parents' house. Our parents made subtle jokes about our ineptitude on the gridiron or told us not to worry, but no thought was given to how we would grow up with diminished expectations or lacking the ability to succeed because our peewee league football team was outscoured infinity + 1 to 6 (we missed the extra point). Life went on.
A year passed, and we suited up again, this time as world-weary eleven-year-olds. A funny thing happened: we got good. I still don't know how; certainly, some of it can be attributed to having another year of physical growth. Some of the other teams in the league probably lost some good players to age. Personally, that was the year I developed the toughness to handle being bashed by kids in armor who were out to hurt me. The year before I had avoided as much contact as I could get away with. When I turned eleven I looked for it. I remember showing up at the first practice and having Keith Dozier (one of the few real players we had the previous year) run at me, shoulder down. I have no doubt he expected me to side step him or perhaps collapse to the ground in terror, soaking in a puddle of my own urine. Instead, I lowered my shoulder and ran towards him. We met in the middle and bounced off each other. It didn't hurt. Actually, it felt good. When the coach showed up the first thing Keith said to him was, "I think Jay's ready this year, coach". He was right.
That year our team went 6-0 and we gave up one touchdown all year. We had become some unstoppable killing machine that knocked quarterbacks out of games and made teams afraid to throw the ball. I was moved to center and had a great time pushing kids into the secondary so Keith could run off another 60-yard touchdown. Let's face it: winning is way more fun than losing.
The thing is though, losing has its place. It's good to encounter losing, because losing is something you're going to do when you get older. Hopefully not always, and if you work hard, you can "win" in the end (depending on your definition). But you're going to have days where things don't go right. Where you don't get the job you apply for, or the promotion, or the girl.
That's why I've always hated the way youth sports try to take away the possibilty of losing nowadays. Macy's soccer league doesn't keep score. There are no records. There are no statistics kept. The goal is supposed to be to make things fun, but we don't have to do that; the kids already think it's fun. No, the real goal, unstated but still there, is to make things equal. To make it so that no one ever loses. The problem is that when no one can ever lose, no one can ever win. Not officially, anyway. I've said many times before that Macy and the girls on the team I coach always know exactly what the score is. They know when they lose and when they win. They feel sad when the former and happy when the latter. But, like her dad so many years ago on The Worst PeeWee Football Team Of All Time, Macy gets over it in a hurry. She's always ready to play again. And when she loses in the future, when she doesn't get into her first choice of colleges or that totally cute hottie that looks just like the guy in Twilight: The New Class doesn't ask her to the prom, she won't be encountering it for the first time. It won't make it all better, but it will help whether she knows it or not.
Then, there's Canada, long time laughing stock of me personally as well as most right-thinking people. I thought that not keeping score or recording team records was enough wussification for a youth sports league. I should have known Canada could outdo the U.S. in the complete devaluing of sports. In at least one Canadian youth league, if a team gets ahead by more than five goals they automatically lose the game. I'm going to call this "playing by French rules" for obvious reasons. Yes, Canada has taken the idea of winning from a goal (see Bulldogs, Cataula) run past unimportant (see Youth Soccer Association, Moorhead) and proceeded straight to undesirable.
It just goes to show you that when things aren't going your way, laughter is the best medicine. And nobody dispenses laughter quite like Canada.