I recently had a conversation with a boy from my church who had just returned from a soccer game he had played in. When I asked how the game went, he proudly informed me, "We won by three goals!"
Later, his mother told me that the league her son's team is in does not keep score or record wins and losses. However, it's an open secret that the kids all do. While the coaches and officials don't record goals or keep track of who won or who lost, the children who play know exactly how many goals were scored, and what their team's record is.
I understand the rationale behind the league's policy. They are trying to instill in the young players a love for the sport and an emphasis on basic skills, rather than having the kids focus on wins and losses. And given the embarrassing way some parents of young athletes behave these days toward officials and coaches when they don't like the way a game is going, I can't say I blame anyone for not wanting to keep score.
However, I can't help but wonder if a policy of not keeping score or noting which teams won or lost isn't missing out on an extremely important teaching opportunity. It seems to me that learning the right way to respond to winning or losing is every bit as important as learning how to pass or dribble the ball.
The importance of being humble in victory and gracious in defeat made headlines this past weekend. At the conclusion of the San Francisco 49ers/Detroit Lions game, which the 49ers won, 25 to 19, the teams' coaches met at midfield for the customary handshake. But 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was a overly exuberant in his handshake, going so far as to slap the losing coach on the back. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz took exception and literally chased Harbaugh all the way to the tunnel. Multiple security guards tried to maintain order by stepping between the two coaches. What a horrible example those two highly-paid professional coaches set for their players and for young athletes everywhere!
Here are some things God has to say about being humble in victory and gracious in defeat (as well as patient and forgiving toward those who aren't):
"In humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).
"Honor one another above yourselves" (Romans 12:10).
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
Whether we win or lose may say something about our abilities, but how we handle victory and defeat says much about our character.