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10 Faith-Building Lessons I Learned from Losing Every Game As a Varsity Player

Hard work pays off, but sometimes not in the way you hope.

All growing up I watched each of my siblings participate and excel in sports while they were in high school. I enjoyed watching them and felt the excitement they had for the love of the game. As I was the youngest, I dreamed of being at least as good as they were. In my young mind, they were all the very best and I had to live up to the family name.

I trained and practiced hard all throughout high school to be the best at sports. I had lofty goals of winning games and achieving state championship titles in basketball and football, but I never reached any of those goals I longed for.

The four years I spent in high school were actually part of a six-year losing streak in boys’ basketball and football. I never won a game playing varsity sports. This was a huge let-down to me. I never really felt like I matched up to the potential I wanted. However, years later I see how that experience of losing has taught me much more than I ever would have gained by winning a state championship. The following are 10 lessons I’ve learned from losing at sports:

The following can be related beyond sports to anyone in their personal circumstances. I hope through this post you will find at least one principle that will bring you closer to God.

1. Success means choosing to live the gospel and focus on positive personal progression.

Because I played on a team, I found out very quickly that I could not control the actions of other players on the team. I could only focus on my own responsibility to help the team as a whole. When I realized that my personal efforts were my contribution to helping the team win, I worried less about the mistakes of others. Similarly, we need to remember that in this life there are many things out of our control. We live in a world in which we cannot control the decisions others make—bad or good. We can, however, make our own choices about how we choose to live and hope that others will follow our example of goodness. Even though the team I played on lost, as long as I focused on my job, I was content with how I played the game. Similarly, even though other people in this world may choose not to keep the commandments we can decide to be our very best selves through living the gospel and choose to be happy in our spiritual growth. 

2. What may seem bad at first can truly be for the better.

Trials are actually blessings in disguise. Who wants to admit that? I don’t think many people would, especially when in the middle of the trial. For me, there were many trials during my sports career—concussions, broken bones, pain, fatigue, failure, etc. But from each one, I learned how to be a better person. When I was out from concussions, I was more supportive of other team members and encouraged them to do their personal best. When I had pain or fatigue, I knew how to give support to others who experienced the same. Comparing that to life, when we experience trials we become better and are better able to bless the lives of others. Our Savior is the ultimate example of this:

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7: 11-12).

Having trials will give us an opportunity to focus on important things, like other people, rather than personal pride and glory. Because I lost so often, my mind became less focused on winning and more focused on enjoying my time playing. I became less interested in the pride and glory of winning and became much more interested in honing my own skills so I could be better. I also focused on developing friendships with the people I worked with. Take time to try and see small positive results from your seemingly large failures or trials.

3. Find confidence from the storm.

I developed confidence through losing because I realized that I always had another chance. If I missed a tackle, I would have another chance on the next play. If I didn’t catch the ball, they would throw it to me again. If I got hurt, I would heal. Some accidents, trials, or burdens are not fully healed, eased, or lifted in this life. But in the eternal scheme of things, those things that matter most to us (like our salvation and eternal life) are what God will give us another chance for, as long as we have a “broken heart and contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20) and don’t give up. Through Christ’s Atonement, we can always have another chance to repent and change for the better. Confidence doesn’t necessarily come from doing something perfect the first time, it comes from knowing you have the potential to do it perfectly—knowing you’re made of the stuff of the divine.

4. You will enjoy life when you keep the commandments.

Even though many people on my team chose to break commandments in order to “have fun,” I never did. I realized that enjoying life does not require doing anything that would compromise standards. I was also able to enjoy the game I loved because I chose not to take cheap shots, act unsportsmanlike, or cheat in order to “win” the game. I had a clean conscience in the way I played and felt happy that I could perform well without breaking the rules. In life, consequences will naturally come because of good and bad actions. Good actions lead to more freedom and contentment about life, while bad actions bring guilt and often pain or more hardship. 

5. Team players can be your support.

During my high school sports career, I noticed that some players on the team chose to blame or criticize one another for mistakes. Those who did this would not receive support or encouragement from those they criticized. They then did not progress as easily because they relied on their own strength and not in the strength of the team. If a team member gave encouragement, however, he received the same. If a team member trusted the team, the team trusted the player. Likewise, when we show one another how important we are to each other and treat one another with kindness, we will actually help one another reach the goals of salvation and exaltation together.

6. Knowing you are a "fighter" within is more important than a trophy or championship, or any worldly treasure.

I don’t give up on things easy; I’ve developed the tenacity to stick with hard things because I’ve realized there is always opposition. But that has come from many opportunities to choose whether I would stand strong when faced with a trial. If I were to worry about the crowd, the glory, the trophies, the publicity, or the popularity from winning, I would not have confidence in the things I need the most—God and myself. When I played football, I wanted people to see that I was really good and I wanted to be able to say to people that I had won a state championship. When thinking that way, and after losing so much, I did not feel happy about my experience. I didn't want to play anymore. However, I felt the support of my parents letting me know they were there for me, no matter what. They helped me see that what was most important about playing was enjoying the experience, doing my personal best, and persevering for something important even though it was hard.

Satan will continually tempt us to believe that worldly possessions or pride are much more valuable than our faith. But when we know within ourselves that we will be valiant in keeping the commandments, we will receive more strength from the Savior to do what He needs us to do in this life. We will then find that the true meaning of enduring to the end is to stay true to the faith because we know it is the most important thing to us above all the worldly treasure.

7. It is better to play as a team.

The fact that many sports are played as a team has helped me understand that doing my own job and trusting others will do their job is critical to any team playing situation. Whether other team members choose to do their job or not should not be my main concern. What I should do is seek out ways I can encourage team members to choose on their own to do what is right and leave it up to them to choose. Just like if someone chooses wrong, we can help them "only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned," not by force (D&C 121:41). This same principle applies to all team-like situations, including marriage, family, friendships, work, etc. If you lose battles as a team, you still have your team, and you can still try again together.

8. We need to admit we are human, admit that we make mistakes, and then learn what we need to change to succeed.

My football team lost over and over and over again. We never figured out what we needed to do to win. But even though my football career ended with me never winning, I will always remember a lesson I learned from that experience: It is okay if you lose. It is not okay if you give up. It is okay if you are not good at first. But it is detrimental to believe you will never change. Watching the movie about the American boxer Rocky Balboa reminds me of this. In Rocky IV, he says something simple yet profound, “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.” Change is one of the most fundamental principles of the gospel and inherent of our divine potential. It is also known as repentance, an eternal principle. God has commanded us to make and renew covenants with Him. He knows we will make mistakes even while we strive to keep our covenants. Therefore, He has provided us with the opportunity to relearn, repent, and renew.

9. Pain and trial may last for a long time, but they won’t last forever.

Always losing when I tried so hard to win is similar to the frustration of having a trial that won’t go away even though I want so badly to have the trial or weakness removed. Many trials we experience last only for a short while, but others may last throughout this life until we return to our Heavenly Father. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come” (“An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” October 1999 general conference). Maybe you don’t understand why you have your trial, but you can learn to focus on the Savior and let Him "ease the burdens" (Mosiah 24:14). 

10. Many times the thing we love or desire the most is what we are tested on the most.

One of my biggest challenges in life came when I was not able to be a part of the success in sports I wanted so badly. God had a different plan in mind for me. He needed me to understand important lessons for my own spiritual growth and development.

Three of the four years playing football in high school, I had season ending concussions. With each, I felt upset and angry that I could not play anymore. However, after the initial shock and irritation wore off, I came to terms with what had happened. The pain of not being able to play lingered for quite a while, but now many years after high school, I am just grateful that I had the experience with football that I did. I know that God is teaching me to be grateful for everything He blesses me with. Some things happen for a reason and some don't, but in all things, I can choose to be grateful.

Now, going forward, I can strive to take tests and trials with the attitude that they are building me for a better purpose, whether that purpose is specific, or it is simply because it is a part of the reason for life—to help me become more like God. I know there are plenty of examples in the scriptures of how God tests us with things we love or desire the most.

Take Abraham for example. He wanted his own children and he wanted his seed to have all the blessings of the priesthood. God tested him with patience in waiting for a son, Isaac, who would bless Abraham with seed to fill the earth. Even when he finally did have Isaac in his old age, Abraham was then commanded to sacrifice Isaac. That had to have been crazy hard for Abraham, but he was willing to do what the Lord commanded. He must have trusted that God had a better purpose in mind.

Look at Nephi in the Book of Mormon. He loved his family and wanted them to follow the Lord in all things because he knew it would bring them happiness. Many times his own brothers betrayed him and tried to kill him. Nephi even sacrificed his life to save records so his brothers’ future family would believe in God’s word and be saved. I’m sure Nephi trusted God had a plan in mind for his brothers. What do we see in both of these examples? That God fulfilled His promises. He will do the same for you.

There are so many lessons we all can learn from our experiences in this life. All good things point to Christ. We will recognize how experiences in our life bring us closer to Christ when we seek to learn from them.

Lead photo from Getty Images.