It’s not all bad: Parenting through a team defeat (the AFL edition)

(Source: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Last Saturday, the AFL season wrapped up, with Collingwood losing to West Coast in the Grand Final. (Of course, another perspective could be that West Coast defeated Collingwood, however, in our home, Collingwood tends to be the focus). With this outcome, the hopes of my son and husband were dashed. My daughter and I were worried – although we don’t support the Magpies, we do feel the impact when they lose.

This was the first year I didn’t watch the match as my daughter convinced me to take her to a movie instead. Her reasons were flimsy (‘I’m not good luck’, and ‘it’s too stressful if the boys’ team doesn’t win’) but I caved in, knowing that she really didn’t want to watch it and I would suffer through her irritation. So it wasn’t until an hour or so after the match finished that we heard the result. And we were both dismayed, thinking: ‘They are going to be so sad and grumpy – this is not going to be good’.

I initially felt a mixture of pain and frustration. The pain or sadness related to the outcome (it was so close, and if only they’d won!) My frustration was due to the emotional commitment of my husband and son to a game where, ultimately, only one team from eighteen can win. I felt frustrated that they would put themselves through this potential angst.

I stewed over this on the drive home, only half listening to my daughter’s chatter as I wondered:

  • Couldn’t they follow something else where it’s not so cut and dried?
  • Why can’t they redirect their passion to other areas where the motivation relates to individual’s personal achievements, and development? Where everyone’s a winner just by participating, and the challenge is a personal one rather than against others? 
  • After all, it’s only a game (conveniently forgetting how delighted I was when my team, Richmond, won last year).

But then I realised that life isn’t really like that, at least, not all the time.

  • Yes, we can often avoid being involved – personally or emotionally – in causes, or careers, or activities where everyone wins, but not always.
  • Not everyone can be the leader – or have the outcome they want to see – all the time. For instance, not everyone can have their preferred role in a play, or have their artwork chosen, or achieve the job position or outcomes they seek.
  • Not everyone can have every decision in life go their way.

No one likes to see their team lose, especially in the finals. It can be gut wrenching. I know, as I’d taken a good week to get past the dismay I felt when Richmond, was beaten by this very Collingwood team the week prior, knocking my team out of the Grand Final. I hadn’t realised it could impact me like that (I didn’t realise how much I was also emotionally invested in football outcomes, but that’s another story). But I’d eventually come around to being able to get behind another team for the grand final – while maintaining a hope for my team in 2019.

We have to learn how to lose at times. We have to learn to keep trying, even if the desired outcome seems to be slipping away. We have to know when to give up and when to ‘fight and fight’ to win (sorry, wrong theme song). And we have to learn this with good grace, acknowledging the skills of the opposition (when appropriate), while also maintaining (realistic) hope and commitment for the future.

Balancing commitment, enthusiasm, encouragement and pragmatism is a challenge in so many areas of life but it’s something we all need to learn. Being a supporter (where, in reality, you are just a spectator) can help us develop or refine these skills. Sure, in the process we can feel devastated, however as we learn to pick ourselves up and try again. In turn we can apply these lessons to our family, work, community pursuits  and causes that we commit to – where we will actually have impact.

By the time I was back home, I was ready for the emotional carnage I was expecting, and ready to let it roll over me. I wouldn’t try to comfort, or put a positive spin on things. No, I would leave them to pull themselves together, no matter what state they were in. Because it was one of those things. They would have to move through it by themselves.I was quite proud of myself for reaching this higher level of evolution and keen to show, by the way I reacted, how further along I was.

However, I found that the my husband and son were more matter of fact than I’d anticipated (or ever experienced). Sure, there had been tears, and they had little appetite (or any conversation) that evening, but by the next day they were much more positive. They’d come to this realisation ahead of me. Only just – I think it was the first time they’d moved on so quickly – but they had, and they didn’t necessarily need my laborious explanations. Which was yet another lesson for me!

I may never get to watch the repeat of the 2018 Grand Final, which is still being described as ‘the Match of which we do not speak’ by my 13 year old son. But I feel we all gained a lot from it. And I think these lessons hold us in good steed for the future.

So I say:

‘Thank you, Collingwood, for a close fought game, and for showing us how to lose. And may you be stronger next year. ‘Cause you’re gonna need to be: you’ve got my Tigers to contend with – bigger and better in 2019!” 

Maybe I’ve still got a little more evolution to go 🙂

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