This past week, Michigan Lutheran Seminary boys' basketball teams found themselves in games that went into double overtime. In both cases, they lost. The JV Cardinals lost on Monday, January 4 to Carrollton, and the Varsity Cardinals lost on Friday, January 8 at St. Louis, 57-55.
After both games, Cardinal players and coaches were agitated by the results for various reasons. Of course, everyone (fans included) replayed the games and considered missed opportunities. One more made free throw. One more converted lay-up. One jump shot that could have gone in. One rebound that went to the opponent resulting in one more chance which they converted or in one more chance that we did not get. In a games that go 4 full quarters and then two more periods of 4 minutes each, there is a lot to replay. Many opportunities made and missed.
While the winning team can bask in victory and review whatever play was deemed the game winner, the losing team recounts dozens of moments that could have swung the result the other way. One more free throw, and we don't even go to overtime. One more rebound, and we avoid double-overtime.
Even though all the "ifs" are true (IF we had done this, .... IF we had not done that, .....), it is important to remember that the "ifs" go both ways. IF we had missed one more free throw, we go home earlier and no happier. IF we had coughed up one more turnover, we don't even see overtime. IF there had been one more mistake, we get no more chances to have just one more chance.
Hard losses are hard to take. We blame someone else. We blame ourselves. That's easy, and it does not fix anything. Sometimes you just lose. That happens, and you don't have to like it.
It has been said that you learn more about yourself from losing than from winning. That's probably true. You find out where your level of determination lies. Is it worth pursuing excellence when your pursuit has not had excellent results? Winning makes such a pursuit easy. It is not so easy when you lose. It is easy to play sports when you win, because winning is fun. Losing isn't.
But throughout life, we strive for excellence and work hard for a reward. Sometimes, that reward does not come, even after an excellent effort. You don't have to like that, either. But there is great honor in the striving, the struggling, and the pursuit when results make it hard. There is nobility in pressing on when circumstances are pressing against you. It is God-pleasing to pursue excellence and to make the valiant effort no matter what the results, especially when the results are disappointing.
Next week, the Cardinal basketball teams will take to the floor again. Next week, they will put forth a valiant effort. They will strive, and they will give their best. That's what we teach them to do. If the scoreboard reflects a favorable result from their efforts, all the better. But even if it doesn't, the greater honor will be in the valiant effort.
"IF" ponderings are about the final score, not the effort or the people.