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.
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.