Second Place Face: A Letter to My Daughter

“As for my girls… I’ll raise them to believe they breathe fire.” ~Jessica Kirkland

For Izzy.
My 34 week preemie baby girl – who “might always be small and slow, who might have trouble learning, whose development may lag, who will probably be sickly.”
For Izzy.
On your birthday. My ELEVEN year old baby girl who is so much more than anyone could have ever imagined – faster, smarter, healthier – and who is just getting started.
I love you most.

My daughter is a phenom. Statistically speaking, she wasn’t supposed to be. I will remember for the rest of my life “the speech” about all the complications that can follow a baby born premature. Maybe I was too young and naive, but I didn’t believe a word they said about my girl. No one would look at her today and believe she was ever born at a “disadvantage.” If you’re of the mind that parents shouldn’t brag relentlessly on their kids, stop reading… or maybe you need to hear this. In recent years it has occurred to me that I heard (and did) a lot more complaining about kids than praise in general and that absolutely impacts the vibe that flows between parents and child. This is a subject in and of itself I’ll be back to discuss some other time.
Right now, I’m going to be “that parent.”

When she was five, Izzy played her first season in recreational soccer. By the time she was seven, I spent most of my time watching her with raised eyebrows. She is a natural athlete, as they say, runs with perfect form, changes directions with easy grace, picks up quickly on skills and – she. is. aggressive. Not in the unnecessary roughness kind of way, but in the instinctual fearlessness that she attacks every opportunity to score, to win kind of way. I’m going on record right now to say that she doesn’t get that from me. I don’t think you can teach that, its just there. I think it’s the preemie in her. (*wink wink*)
The older she got the more quickly we realized what a fierce competitor she is. She loves to play and hates to lose. She made the move to a club soccer team last year, seeking a higher level of play. It only took one scrimmage game for me to realize I was “that parent” – the one who is relentlessly cheering and losing her mind from the sidelines, who can’t sit still and is pacing, clapping, jumping – yep. That’s me. I heard a woman named Jenny Donnelly speak on this at a leadership conference some years ago. She was giving a speech about leading with passion and she told the story about how she, at her 4 year old’s indoor soccer game, was on her feet, on the glass, shouting “go-go-GO!” all the while reminding herself “It’s 4 yr old soccer – it’s 4 yr old soccer.” But upon reflection, she realized that it wasn’t the soccer game she was so crazy about – it was her son – and she wasn’t crazy, she was PASSIONATE. It’s hard not to be passionate about our kids and everyone expresses that in different ways – not all of us are comfortable being “that parent,” but for better or worse, that’s me. My fellow soccer parents are nodding and/or rolling their eyes right now… my bad ya’ll, but it can’t be helped!

One thing that stuck out about Izzy on this new team is how poorly she handled a loss. Her little rec team had been sensational, they rarely lost a game, and I thought that it would be good for her to embrace a little struggle and learn from it. She cried after every game. Their first tournament was hard to watch as they played up an age group and got absolutely smashed. She was inconsolable after every game and while I hugged and shushed her and told her it was OK, I looked around and noticed that, while most of her teammates weren’t happy, they weren’t crying. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big tournament, a ‘friendly’ scrimmage, or a team scrimmage at practice: losing = tears. The last tournament of the fall, their team did really well playing through awful wet, muddy, freezing cold weather, but lost in the championship game. Second. I thought surely this was better than getting smashed, but this was where I first saw the “second place face.” She didn’t want a medal, didn’t want to take a picture with her team, and certainly didn’t want to be recognized in front of the whole crowd as the “finalist aka not the winner.” (Her words). I got downright mom-voice on her and told her she would accept that medal and be a good sport because losing is part of playing. “You can’t win them all.” If looks could kill, the one she gave me after I said that would have killed me instantly on the spot. It was sheer defiance in her eyes, but she took the picture, and I’m so glad she did. I don’t ever want to forget that second place face. In passing a parent said to me, “It’s hard to move from rec to club. She’ll get used to losing.”
Boom.
That did it. That was the moment it clicked.
GET USED TO LOSING? Never. Losing doesn’t just happen on a scoreboard. Losing is a mindset, a habit of letting yourself be disappointed or hurt and accepting that as the status quo. Accepting that you are ‘less-than’ or that you ‘can’t.’ If I had a dollar for every time I was hurt or disappointed – in 2019 – I would be sipping drinky drinks on a Caribbean Island basking in all my dollar bills. But hurt and disappointment don’t pay – it’s what you do AFTER you’ve lost that pays in dividends. Get up. Revise. Reset. Go again. Simply not giving up and trying again is a victory. Someone somewhere said that you can’t beat someone who doesn’t give up. I feel like it was one of the Rocky movies… whoever said it, they were right.

There are a lot of ways to draw parallels between sports and life. I can trace some of my greatest life lessons back to a softball field, a CrossFit gym, or a weightlifting platform. I have watched both of my children learn fun and difficult lessons in the midst of sport. There are a lot of feelings out there about youth sports – from participation medals/everyone is a winner, to making sure they don’t take it too seriously, to locking up that scholarship in the 7th grade – whatever your opinion, you’re entitled to it. I will continue to be unapologetically passionate about my girl and her love of sport, competition, and winning. Winning looks different for everyone, but in the end, I want to her to have a happy and fulfilling life – THAT is winning too. Being happy and fulfilled isn’t easy. I was basically ‘today years old’ when I realized that you can never be happy or feel fulfilled if you’re constantly looking outside of yourself for permission or some definition of what it means to be happy and fulfilled. It’s who we are at our core, our perfect gifts, that will lead us to our best lives… and you will never find it if you “get used to losing.” Trust yourself, trust your process, get up and try again. Google your favorite champion – Serena, Lebron, Mia Hamm, Tom Brady, Rich Froning – they all have a second place face and it’s not a smile and it’s not a scowl. It’s a promise. Win or Learn.

And so here, my fierce daughter, is my message to you on your eleventh birthday.

I hope you never get used to losing. I hope you know that you either win or you learn. I hope you know that nothing worth having comes easily and I hope you never ever forget where you came from – that you have already proven all of the statistics wrong – you were a miracle from the minute you were born. I hope you never let the world convince you that you need its approval – the greatest gift you can give to the world is your true authentic self. Your gifts are God-given and not everyone will understand them. You’re going to be hurt and disappointed. You’re going to feel lost and alone. But no matter what life brings you, I will always be your biggest, loudest, most unapologetic, passionate fan. I will always believe in you and will never stop – no matter how much you may wish it – telling you that I see more greatness in you than I thought possible. Your greatest strength lies within you, that fire and lightning, that endless desire to win… breathe it in deep. Use it. Force it. Not everyone will like it or understand it, but the world needs your light. Don’t ever settle. And don’t ever forget – we call you #izzytheboss for a reason.

“It’s not over until I win.” ~Les Brown

One thought on “Second Place Face: A Letter to My Daughter

  1. I thought first of Scott Hamilton and his book “Finish First.” He had a lot of challenges. Then I thought of Michael Waltrip and his book “In the Blink of an Eye.” He won every race he entered until he hit NASCAR. I want to be more like Scott, Michael, and your daughter. Oh, I also like your attitude and could use more fight. 🙂 Good job.

    Liked by 1 person

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