I was a competitive animal from an early age, whether it was mastering real estate in Monopoly, scoring success with seven letter words at Scrabble or acclaiming checkmate in chess. I loved playing games, and of course, winning, but I was a lousy loser, skulking off silently alone to soothe my suffering only to devise new strategies to defy defeat forever. (Such are the idyllic imaginings of adolescence!) Football more fervently forged this want to win, moulding a mentality that lamented loss with no sympathy for surrender. As a Twentysomething some years later, I realised there was something more significant than just losing the game (it really wasn’t the end of the world!) and more about how you played the game, recognising the need for unrelenting effort, energy and enthusiasm for four quarters on the field. It demanded striving for the best and making the most of yourself by nurturing a strong sense of self-belief as integral for success.
I borrowed that philosophy and psychology from all the sporting codes I cherished, be they football (of all varieties), cricket and tennis, but as much as I still loathed losing, (I stopped being a surly sulk!) it was also about how you lost the game. Do the discipline, dedication and determination just dissipate inexplicably leaving no desire to win? Far more important than going down to a better team or opponent is to lose resolve and resilience by relinquishing all endeavour and capitulating in the contest with no fighting spirit or intensity. Impossible is a word I learned to ban from my banter, as how many teams and players have come from behind against seemingly insurmountable margins to fight back and win. At some time in our lives, most of us have been devastated by defeat (and not just in sport), our shattered selves shedding tears at our loss, both personally and professionally. We can feel like failures, bereft of belief for a more exciting and enlivening future with our perspective pervaded by a pessimism that ensures we just keep on losing.
But learning to transcend adversity by bouncing back to the battlelines, to keep daring to dream (however fantastical it seems to others) and allowing our fighting spirit to flourish can reap the rewards we seek, on or off the field. Great comebacks are commonplace in sport (and how inspiring for life, too), none more famous perhaps than in 1970 when Carlton came from 44 points behind Collingwood at half-time in the Grand Final to fight back and win the flag; a very real reminder that sometimes we need to run with risks to unravel the magical mysteries of life and focus on our fighting spirit. An unwillingness to accept defeat (at least in the long term), is not only invaluable in maintaining our lust for life, but intrinsic to our humanity even when the odds seem stacked against us. Of course, we won’t always win the games we play or watch, but keeping that fighting spirit alive and thriving can surprise us with success even when it’s most unexpected.