Five years ago this week, I stood at home plate at our Majors baseball field and gave my first opening day speech as president of Saddleback Little League. I told the assembled parents and players:
Inside the fence, we play hard to win. Outside the fence, we’re all friends and part of one community.
It was a call for good sportsmanship and for parents to avoid any Dance Moms-level craziness. Looking back, I see a lesson that applies to fields outside of youth baseball.
“The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” doesn’t just apply to sports. Closing the deal for a big sale, getting your idea approved, or winning a writing contest — they can all offer the same thrill as sports. That’s because these too are competitions. Competition is often seen as a zero-sum game. To win, someone has to lose.
Sometimes, we are the losers. The contract goes to a competitor, our idea is rejected, and someone else gets first prize. The loss can seem unfair. Even when the loss is fair and deserved, the defeat is still bitter.
When competition offers us such ecstatic highs and crushing lows, how do we cope? How do we avoid becoming overconfident in victory and discouraged in defeat? What keeps us going to play again?
That’s why we need to know there is a world outside the fence. We can take off the game face. We don’t need to show our worth by beating someone else. We can be ourselves and be accepted for who we are, not by how many runs we scored or how much money we make. We need to know that there is pleasure in sport, and life, outside of winning and losing. We can enjoy the company of friends. We can feel connected instead of having to struggle alone. We can be human again.
The world outside the fence offers us perspective as well as comfort. Winning and losing are temporary things and have little value outside of the arena. Our health, our relationships, our emotional well-being matter much more. We may not remember the score of a game, but we’ll remember a parent telling us how proud they are of us.
Of course, we always want to do our best when we’re inside the fence. We want to be successful for the feeling and rewards it brings. We may also feel we must win to survive. We still need to remember that there is a world outside the fence where we can relax and be accepted. We need both the moments of challenge and the moments of calm so that we can grow and feel whole.