I believe that victory is about process. It is not defined by a final game score, championship or any other zero-sum scenario. Victory is being as excellent as possible given your circumstances, working hard, and courageously facing obstacles. Victory is about standing for something with integrity. It Victory is about how one chooses to participate on and off of the field.
It took me until my mid-thirties to really get this – not from reflections of my college athletics experiences, but from coaching talented and spirited young women whom I will never forget. While coaching these student-athletes I faced some significant changes in my life, causing me to reflect on my core values and principles and whether I was living and coaching congruently.
These amazing high school players I coached won many games, but never a championship. We were always runners-up yet, celebrated longer on the field after “losing” than any winning team ever did. We joyfully celebrated in performing beyond expectations, our family-oriented culture, and the fun we had together in the journey.
One year, it happened. A college team I coached secured a league championship and its first bid to Nationals. I thought I would feel different – that becoming the “champion” as traditionally defined in sports would change who I was and everything would become more certain. Instead, I felt the same joy I had with past teams, because, ultimately, the victory came in who we were as defined by us -not by the final score or domination over a rivaled opponent.
Maybe I finally got what victory truly is because this team had no easy journey. Their path was marked by past internal challenges and then, an egregious incident committed by an opponent creating a challenging aftermath. My team recovered but most importantly they stood up and fought for what is good in sports. When my courage and core values were tested, they had faith in me and my principles. They lived out what victory really is by making good choices and working hard while focused on team goals. This team courageously stood for something. This triggered a chain reaction for others to do the same.
So, on one rainy, cold afternoon, a team I coached finally won a championship title as defined by final game score. They were true victors because of how they chose to compete – with dignity, grace, and sportsmanship. I am grateful to them – not for earning me a title of “champion coach,” but for helping me rediscover the belief that we all are victorious in the process of the game (and life) if we remain congruent with our beliefs and values.
My adopted Guatemalan daughter, born on the day that this championship team flew to their first national tournament, will be named Victoria. As I await her arrival home, I reflect on how I will raise her to know what victory really means, now, that I truly understand it, at last.
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