Imagine what it feels like to lose. Multiply that several times over. How tempting is it to throw up your hands in defeat and get really mad about it?
When I was in junior high, I went to a small school that wouldn’t be able to field a girls’ basketball team unless every girl in both the seventh and eighth grades turned out for the team. Basketball was not my favorite sport, but I turned out for the team so that the girls who liked basketball would have a chance to play. Turns out we weren’t very good. For two years straight, we lost every single game. Every. Single. Game.
As you might imagine, it got increasingly difficult to persist in this effort. It got more embarrassing to go to school after every loss. The other kids would tease us relentlessly. My bus driver even tried to encourage me by offering me a can of soda pop for every basket I would make in a game. I recall earning only a six-pack after the first season.
It would have been easy to join in the teasing and blame the defeats on teammates to shift the taunts away from myself. It would have been easy to lie about the baskets I made to avoid having to admit I wasn’t a good shot. But a bad attitude and lies never outrun the truth and good character.
There were times when I would get frustrated with myself in a game and I wanted to commit a hard foul. Basketball has a way of discouraging that kind of behavior. Getting a technical foul that allows the other team extra shots and more points actually makes the scoring deficit even worse. I only made that mistake once.
My courage was tested and I really wanted to quit the team many times. But I was reminded how much my best effort — at every practice and in every game — mattered to the team. Win or lose, we could only hold our heads up if we put forth our courageous best effort together every minute and never quit. It was on the basketball court in a loooong string of losses where I learned that courage counts most when you feel like you are at your worst.
In the end, the courage it took to keep playing paid off. We each learned that we were tougher than we could have imagined in the beginning. We had each other to lean on and we had our own brand of goofy junior high encouragement. Sometimes it was a silly cheer in the huddle or a good cry in the locker room. What mattered was that we kept going and kept playing our hardest.
Now whenever I face something that challenges my courage as an adult, I remember putting on that terrible fitting, itchy polyester basketball uniform, and I think, “Well, at least I can choose to wear a breathable cotton today. Find your courage and give it your best!”
Kristine Meyer is the Executive Director of the Avista Foundation. More than two decades ago, she grew up in Colton, Washington, where the high school girls’ basketball team recently won their tenth State B basketball championship in eleven years.