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Lacrosse and Its Discontents: How I Helped My Son Cope With Losing

My son had his first big sports letdown, but found his way through with our help.

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We’ve all dreamed of shooting the winning three-pointer as time expires. Crushing the ninth-inning grand slam to win the game. Scoring the goal as the horn sounds.

Walk through any park in the spring and you’ll hear the proof, as kids yell, “He shoots, he scores!” and their teammate sinks the basket.

This story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

Every kid who signs up for a team dreams of their big moment. My oldest son, Duncan, faced his a few seasons ago on the lacrosse field. His team — which had yet to win a single game — had led through the first half of the game. At halftime, I took my other three kids home. By the time we got there, though, my wife had filled my phone with text messages: the other team had fought its way back and taken the lead by one goal.

Duncan isn’t a flashy kid. He’s steady and composed, so I wasn’t surprised when my wife texted me to say that the coach gave him the ball, with 20 seconds left in the game.

As a coach myself, I could envision what happened next. The referee blew the whistle, and the players on both teams went in motion. My son charged at his defender. With each step he took, seconds clicked off the clock. With five seconds left, he shot a bullet at the goalie’s feet — and it ricocheted off the goalie. The clock ran down. Three, two, one: the game was over.

I was in the kitchen when Duncan came in through the back door.  

“How’d it go?” I asked.

“Coach told me to take in the ball, and we came up with a play,” he started. “I dodged around the defender and took a shot with five seconds left, and I didn’t make it,” he said, with a tone of disbelief. “I missed the shot.”

Duncan knows that losing a game can be difficult — but that it isn’t the end of the world. From his earliest days on the field, when his lacrosse stick was taller than he was, his coaches and I taught him that no matter what happened in the game, chicken nuggets will still taste the same. He will still have friends. We will love him. And there will be more games, more big moments, more chances to make that dream come true.

Until that moment, he’d always focused more on the fun than on the wins and the losses.

That evening was different. As he tried to explain his regret, his chestnut-colored eyes welled up.

I knew that his tears weren’t about losing the game. Finally, his team had had a chance to win a game, and he thought he had let his teammates down. His coach, his teammates, the fans — everyone had looked to him, and he hadn’t delivered. All of their hope died when the ball bounced off the goalie, and now Duncan was bringing all of his guilt home.

“I missed,” he said again.

I told him I respected his courage — and his taking a chance. “Coach called your number, and that’s something you should be proud of,” I told him. “Your coach put this heavy privilege on you because he believed in you.”

There would be other games, I said. Other chances. He had to keep trying, I told him.    

A few hours after he missed his shot, Duncan ate his weight in chicken parmigiana sandwiches. He listened to his youngest brother, Cannon, talk about his own big news: his first-ever lacrosse goal. Cannon had taken a lot of shots that day. After many, many attempts, he finally got one in the net.

Duncan praised him for not giving up, even though many of his shots had missed. He encouraged him to keep trying no matter what.

He shoots, he scores.  

Steve Alvarez lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, four kids, and Chowder the dog. He is the author of the book, Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military’s PR Machine, published by Potomac Books.