JANES: When losing isn’t

A cliché used by many, believed by few. Tell a Division I football coach whose livelihood is tied inextricably to wins and losses that winning doesn’t matter. Tell the Yankees (or me…) that their seven-game ALCS loss to the Sox in ’04 was a “nice try.” Tell Yale football players that it’s not whether or not they beat Harvard that counts, as long as they play with class, heart, and all that good stuff…

Winning matters: to the victors go the spoils. But to read a score and see win or loss, black and white, is to miss the gray – a gray that sometimes contains many tiny triumphs, many magic moments, many little victories that just didn’t add up.

Sometimes, we need context. See men’s soccer against UConn last week. The score says a strong 1-0 loss to a ranked team, but look at the bigger picture: hours before that game, UConn was named the No.1 team in the country. Yale went to their turf and pushed them to the 109th minute of a possible 110.

But look even further. Last season, the Bulldogs won three games and scored 10 goals. With seven games still to play this season, they are 4-4-1 with 17 goals and a huge win over Harvard. This year’s success has come more from a choice and shift in attitude. The Bulldogs have turned a year-long quest for respect into a season deserving of it by choosing to believe in what they have and make it what they need. Last week they were just 58 seconds from even with the best team in the country.

Sometimes, you just have to be there. See women’s soccer against Harvard last weekend. The Crimson have won two of the last three Ivy League titles, but the Bulldogs scored early and maintained control for much of the game. Even after Harvard tied things up early in the second half, Yale stayed even the Ivy powerhouse, and pushed the Crimson to overtime.

Then, tragedy. An inadvertent, unavoidable and otherwise inconsequential handball by the Bulldogs in the box led to the legally justifiable but gut-wrenching call for a Harvard penalty kick. And though Yale keeper Adele Jackson-Gibson ’13 had had a day of miraculous saves, this time the shot was just out of her reach. Just like that, the epic battle ended in a way that just didn’t fit. Look at the boxscore and see a Yale loss. Watch the game and see countless magical moments, numerous displays of determination and a game that – if fairness mattered at all in sports – should have been the Bulldogs’.

Sometimes, losses are steps to victory. Look at Yale field hockey. Owners of a 4-5 record in 2011, the Bulldogs play the eighth-most-difficult schedule of any team in Division I field hockey this year, and four of their five losses are to top 20 teams. Two of them were in overtime, one in double overtime, and four by just one goal. The Bulldogs have proven that they are as talented as the nation’s best, but have found heartbreak in a season that has been a test of mental toughness like no other.

If they can pass that test, those losses become crucial learning experiences rather than definitive disappointments. Princeton has stumbled, the championship race is wide open, and – with a loss to the Tigers as their only Ivy blemish so far – the Bulldogs control their destiny. No one on Yale’s remaining Ivy League schedule has learned the lessons of composure and resilience that only touch losses can teach. Whether or not field hockey will win a championship remains to be seen, but their losses are in no way the end of the 2011 tale.

So there’s winning and there’s losing — and then there’s the story. And there’s always a story. Because winning isn’t winning without losing, and losses are a part of the story of every win. Sometimes, a loss is just a loss: a bad day, a better team, a squandered opportunity. But as these and other Yale teams (and students, for that matter) know, our toughest days are so because of how much we’ve put into them. Winning matters, but so does losing. And no one has one without the other.

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