This week I had an opportunity to address our fall varsity athletes at their sports convocation. I always try to leave them with a simple message that they can carry with them beyond their athletic careers. I had so many things I wanted to talk about, not least of which is how much I despise hearing people say “kids these days” when discussing our youth, an insult aimed at undermining their work ethic, resiliency, and effort. In my eyes, “kids these days” are doing great things. But that’s for another day.
Instead, I decided to shape my message around comments made by one of our soccer coaches to his team after a crushing defeat. After a devastating overtime loss in our conference finals - which we dominated start to finish but could not score - assistant soccer coach Dave Santos addressed the heartbroken boys with powerful, insightful words. I was standing behind the team listening.
“The best team did not win tonight,” he said. “The team that deserved to win tonight didn’t. But as devastating as this loss is, as low as this low is, it’s what makes the high’s of the game so great. It’s what makes the victories worth it. That’s why we play this game. That’s why we love this game.”
His comments struck me immediately. They were honest and somewhat bitter, but uplifting and encouraging. They captured the moment perfectly, but also spoke to something much more profound. As I reflected on them, I was reminded of two things.
First, that sports, and life for that matter, do not care what you think you deserve. We aren’t entitled to anything. You can work hard, never miss a practice, do everything right, and still fall short. Working hard doesn’t guarantee that all of our dreams come true. That’s a lie (no matter what your parents told you).
But working hard does guarantee a couple of things. It guarantees that we build incredible, unbreakable character - much more valuable than any victory. And it guarantees that we will have given ourselves the best opportunity to succeed when the moment comes our way. Without hard work, nothing is possible. That’s a guarantee.
Second, it reminded me of something my dad used to tell me when I would get down on myself after a bad game or complain when things got tough. He would say “Vito, it’s supposed to be hard. If the game was easy, everyone would play it. If it was easy, then it wouldn’t be special. The hard is what makes it great.”
I wanted to hit a homerun every time I stepped up to the plate. But if I did, then hitting a homerun wouldn’t be very special. It wouldn’t bring the same joy and satisfaction when it was accomplished. It would be the norm.
Successful people hate the norm. They want to do extraordinary things.
If you score a goal every time you take a shot, scoring a goal would no longer be special.
If you score a try on every possession, then try’s no longer need to be celebrated, they just become normal.
If every time you ran a race you beat your personal best time, then running a personal best wouldn’t be a big deal.
If every time you got in a boat you raced the perfect race, then getting on that water the next time wouldn’t be as exhilarating.
If every student received their varsity letter just for walking through the doors, then wearing that varsity jacket wouldn’t have the same meaning. It wouldn’t be as special.
Success is measured not by what you do when things are easy, but by how you do when things get difficult. When they get hard. How do you respond in the face of challenges, setbacks, and struggles? How do you react in the moments when you didn’t get your way? Do you make excuses? Or do you accept what has happened, knowing that it will make those great times even greater. You don’t have to like defeat. You shouldn’t. But you have to accept it. You need to embrace it. Because if it weren’t for defeat, then there would be no such thing as victory. Victories wouldn’t be extraordinary. They wouldn’t matter. Victories would be the norm.
So the next time you lose, the next time you don’t get what you want, just smile. Remind yourself that “if it was easy, everyone would do it. And I’m not everyone.”
Not everyone can do it. Not everyone can do what you can do. If they could, then what you do wouldn’t be special. And if everyone could do it, I bet you wouldn’t want to - because then it wouldn’t be important.
Successful people want to do extraordinary things.
When victory eventually does comes your way, celebrate. You have reason to. You will know it didn’t come easy. You will know that the hard is what makes it great.