A PARADOXICAL LESSON WE CAN LEARN FROM SOCCER: HOW TO WIN BY LOSING

A PARADOXICAL LESSON WE CAN LEARN FROM SOCCER: HOW TO WIN BY LOSING

The European Soccer Championship, a tournament featuring major European national teams, has just come to a close. Italy brought home the Euro 2020 cup, but it was Luis Enrique, Spain’s coach, who won the greatest trophy, teaching everyone a lesson on how to handle difficult losses.

His words, which went viral after the match against Italy – in which his team played brilliantly but lost due to penalties – were striking. Spain’s coach gave the world a lesson in class, sportsmanship, elegance, and honor by complimenting the opposing team just after the match ended. This gesture demonstrated that he is not only one of the best in his profession but also a good person.

Certainly life has taught him how to handle defeat, and his personal life has shown him what really matters in life. After the premature loss of his little girl due to an illness that should never afflict a child, one would expect him to be the sort of man who is angry with the world and with life, mired in pain. Instead, he is entirely different; he presents himself as an exemplary man with a capital ‘M.’ His nine year old daughter died of bone cancer—such a deep pain would have the power to destroy a human being. But instead, we find him on the side-lines of the player field– with an apparent, healthy detachment from what he went through – at one of the high points of his career.

He had removed himself from all the soccer controversies and animosity, and he stood there pushing, cajoling, and advising his team until the very last moment. Then afterwards, when Italy scored the decisive goal, we all saw him walk over to the opposing team’s coach and congratulate him. Instead of cursing, he resigned to the defeat. He hugged the coach and told him that he deserved to win. Not only that, after the game, he made some disconcerting statements for someone who was just a hair away from competing in the European Championship final, which would have made them the champions of European soccer. In complimenting the opposing team, he said he hoped they would win the final and reiterated that he would be rooting for Italy.

His was a shining example of how you can win even when you lose. His composure made quite an impression; it is the same composure he had shown when he went through the most difficult time of his life. This experience would have surely taught him the same lesson that he taught all the youth glued to the TV that night watching the game: "When they beat you, you shouldn’t cry, but get back up again." How does a man who has been through so much stay so calm, carrying on with a smile even through life’s trials? It seems nearly impossible.

And as I look at him, I feel amazement and admiration, because this man, incredibly enough, wins even when he loses and what’s more: he remains strong even through defeat. This behavior might come from the experience of losing a child – an experience that the Italian language does not even have a term to name it: We call children who lose their parents “orphans” and those who lose their spouses “widowers/widows,” but those who lose a child? It was an experience in which he would have found himself rendered powerless. He couldn’t save his child, but could only accept reality and have some composure in dealing with his suffering – not taking any grand title as a warrior, hero, brave man, etc., but rather displaying a bewildering simplicity.

In this simplicity, he even joked with the Italian player Chiesa, at the end of the game, that it would be a sad night in Spain. This demonstrated to the world that soccer is just a sport and everyone involved should be able to maintain a humane, kind, classy approach to it, putting good sportsmanship above all else. Instead of being bitter, it’s best to be happy for others. In the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. Love does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices with the truth.”

Can pain or true tragedy change a person for the better? Maybe so, because, as with all suffering, when you hit rock bottom, a miracle happens: at this low point, you find hope to hold on to, which will bring you back up forever changed. This coach teaches us something else as well: nothing that brings you pain goes forgotten or without serving a purpose. What we all have to do is turn that pain into an opportunity to grow and not throw away a chance to become better versions of ourselves; otherwise, the pain would only amplify the thing that went wrong. Therefore, what was supposed to be just a post-game interview, was actually an emblematic exaltation of values coming from a soul who has found peace and is fully aware of what really matters in life. He taught us that there are no enemies – but adversaries, in whom we must always see a brother in Christ, which is the core of Christian ideals regarding humanity.

This is an understanding that we may not yet have, but that we must fight to gain. Losing hurts, and in the face of defeat there are two ways to deal with it. The first way is that of anger, which the English players and fans chose after losing the championship final to Italy. This undoubtedly leads to aggression… bringing out the worst in a person. The second way is that of acceptance, a sign of maturity as well as sportsmanship, which, as Luis Enrique has shown us, leads to respect of the other and to peace. The most important thing is not to avoid falling, but rather to get back up after having fallen!

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