Always Change a Losing Game

It was a long time ago but it’s a memory that is always triggered by the kind of hot and humid weather we had this past weekend. And, it’s one that that never fails to make me smile.

I was 17 years old and in my second year of serious competition in track. 

With some of my key contenders competing elsewhere, I managed to win gold at the Eastern Canadian meet in the 400 metres and to everyone’s surprise, including my own, qualified for the national championships in Winnipeg.

Although my coach was outwardly positive and never really said so, I knew I was in over my head.  Whereas the pre-printed program listed qualifying times for the other competitors, mine was blank. One look at the times of the competitors and I knew the coach had omitted my time to save me being embarrassed.

Nervous but not ready to give up and motivated by the very real possibility of finishing last, I blasted out of the starting blocks in the semi-final, led the pack for the first 300 metres, then tensed up, died in the final stretch, and barely hung on to qualify for the final.

Downplaying expectations but pleased that I had qualified for the final, my coach stressed the importance of the race as “experience” telling me to go out and do the best I could. I figured that was a nice way of telling me there wasn’t much hope of me winning the race!

Disappointed with my near choke finish in the semi-finals, but not really giving up hope of a respectable finish, I figured it was time for a change.

Knowing I couldn’t handle the pressure of leading the pack, I opted instead for another strategy.

This time when the starting pistol blasted, instead of going all out, I began a strong, steady, and very relaxed run, settling in at the rear of the pack.  I cruised, cool and calm down the backstretch, before starting to dig in. I drove into the final turn and motored into the homestretch picking up speed as I went.

To this day, I have never forgotten the wonderful disbelief I felt, as having passed all other runners, I suddenly realized I was in the lead. A goofy grin on my face, I flew down the last stretch to win an upset gold medal at the Canada Games in by far the best time I had ever run.

Although I know that in the big picture of life, it was, after all, simply a race, it taught me two extraordinarily important life lessons.

First of all, I learned I could do what I set my mind to doing. Having beaten the odds and proven the experts wrong in obtaining a dream, I knew it could be done again. I learned that if I knew what I wanted, stayed focused, and worked hard, dreams do come true.  What an incredibly important lesson for an eighteen year old to learn.

The second and just as powerful lesson…..”always change a losing game”.

The logic of sport can be applied to everyday situations.  If you aren’t winning anyway, what have you got to lose by changing? If your job, a relationship, business, or simply your golf stroke isn’t working…don’t be afraid to change. 

That goes for visions of the future as well. Hang on to the dream, keep your eye on the prize, but revisit your plan or strategy for how you’re going to get there.

Sport had a huge impact on my life, not only by teaching me the importance of having a dream, working hard, and changing a losing game, but also by being blessed with coaches who believed in me when I didn’t always believe in myself.
The experts say that those two things – finding something you’re good at, and finding an adult who believes in you, are the two variables that most often explain why some at-risk kids, which is definitely what I was, succeed, and others fail.

Given all that, there’s no doubt that getting kids involved in sport and recreation is an important investment that pays significant dividends.

Posted on 06-21-16

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