I have been thinking about losing lately.
A few days ago I wrote about vicarious goalkeeping.
My goalkeeping years have come back to me this week in part because of Bert Trautmann’s death and also as a result of a number of very big defeats in sport. The most recent of these being the Australian defeat in the Second Ashes Test at Lord’s.
Back in the late 1950s, I had Bert Trautmann and Lev Yashin as my goalkeeping models.
I saw them on television, never in real life. The pictures of them were black and white and filmed from the halfway line.
From fleeting glimpses of them, I constructed my goalkeeping acrobatics. Even with these imagined movements I did concede (lots of) goals in the games I played. I could not dive in my stony lane but when I reached the recreation ground I could dive expansively on the grass.
My team lost a lot of games and as the youngest player and the goalkeeper I was held responsible by my team mates. Losing became a daily experience but as we played many games each day, winning was part of the mix too.
Years later, when I was reading Marcel Proust, I discovered a quotation from Elstir in Remembrance of Things Past:
We cannot be taught wisdom, we have to discover it for ourselves by a journey which no one can undertake for us, an effort which no one can spare us.
I am not sure if my football friends have read Proust too.
I thought we gained a lot of wisdom through play that was bound by a consensus about fairness. Losing was one of the risks you accepted in games. In my town people had lost a great deal more than football games in the preceding forty years. Losing in games was only distressing or a source of regret if you ever forgot the scale of suffering elsewhere.
I think I was fortunate to have grown up at a time when the media did not amplify performance and create constructed hopes.
Conceding goals when I played provided numerous opportunities to engage in self and other talk … as did great saves, particularly during re-plays of the FA Cup Final. I think that is when I started commentating on performance.
In her discussion of regret, Melanie Greenberg introduces a quote from John Barrymore:
A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.
I have been wondering about how to hold on to dreams despite losing consistently. Melanie’s report of functional MRI brain scans has an interesting conclusion:
regret is a negative emotion that may be adaptive if it motivates action to learn from mistakes and become a smarter or better person. However, getting stuck in regret where there is nothing that can be done to change the situation can be damaging to mind and body. … Feeling that one has done the best one can, given the circumstances and letting go of regret can lead to self-compassion and peace.
Two other quotes came into my reading today and encouraged me to think about dealing with losing and having a sense of peace:
the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.
the fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.
I have spent much of my professional life trying to find ways to support people who have a profound work ethic that enables them to dance under public gaze. I have hoped that assiduous care in observation and the collection of performance data can support their dreams and aspirations.
The ‘wisdom’ I have is based upon making many, many mistakes and learning from occasional, fleeting success. I have a lot to thank Bert and Lev for as my introduction to losing and dreaming.
Letter Home! (National Library of Scotland, no known copyright)
Parada (Imamom, CC BY 2.0)
Muhammad Ali (Frame Grab)
Hi Keith, just read this and found it very interesting and quite emotional. The loss in losing loved ones brings home the perspective we sometime lose in our approach to high performance sport and winning.
Thank you for finding this post, Graham. It is interesting how much you and I have in common.
Perhaps our role is to provide a sense of perspective?