by Caitlin Cantwell,
Neumann University student-athlete (volleyball)
The worst part about sports – as anything else – is losing. I never realized how much I hated losing until I suffered a few big-time losses. Two losses stick out in my memory above all others. The first was my sophomore year against Baptist Bible College in the conference semifinals. Collectively, our biggest regret from that match is that we were certain the championship belonged to us, but forgot we had to get there first. We put so much energy into the final match, that we lost sight of the one in front of us. My fingers are quivering as I type these words because I can still see that final ball hit the court on our side. I can see my best friend fall to the floor in complete agony. I can see myself picking her up when the only thing I wanted to do was collapse there beside her. Although I can see their team and home crowd roaring, I hear nothing. I feel nothing. In the weeks that followed, I was a zombie. I don’t remember much of anything. I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, and had no motivation to keep my head in the books. I remember walking out of class to go sit on my coach’s desk because sobbing in public is apparently frowned upon. Plus she stocked candy in the bottom drawer of her desk—but hey, don’t tell anyone because it’s mine!
The second loss was to rival Cabrini College in the championship my junior year. I had never played in a championship match before, and I certainly did not picture my first to end in that fashion. We beat Marywood two nights prior, and we were on an absolute high. On the eve of the championship, we spent the night at coach’s house, eating dinner, sipping hot chocolate and reminiscing outside by the fire. I had never felt so certain that we were going to win.
‘Twas the night before the ‘ship! The next morning was nothing out of the ordinary for me. Shower, coffee, breakfast, and prep for game time. My team and I met to watch the Women’s Soccer team play in their championship game before we boarded the bus to ours. For as long as I live, I will remember pounding my hands against the bus windows as the Men’s Soccer team made their way onto the field—pounding back. In that moment, we were all one team. We were all ready to take care of business. Three games, two sports, one focus—a CSAC Championship.
We ended up losing the match that night, and to this day, I cannot explain why. We were so mentally ready that it seemed like our physical ability was just not up to par. Cabrini had control of the match from the end of the first set—and we could not come up for air. Personally, I was ready. I had dreamt about this day for years, and to come up short destroyed me. I had battled injuries throughout the season, and felt that the only real payoff would be a championship. Thinking about the conclusion of that season still tosses my stomach upside down and brings me right back. It’s been well over a year and I can still taste the sweat streaming down my face. The teardrops on my lips. I can feel myself fighting off the embrace of family members and coaches. I can see the disappointment on the faces of my teammates. Not a moment of it has faded and I’m not really sure if it ever will. Seeing another team hoist the championship plaque was one of the most infuriating, upsetting, and heartbreaking experiences I have ever had to go through. Giving it all-you-got and coming up short leaves a hollowness that is tough to fix.
After getting past the initial shock and devastation, it was time to get back to work! This spring and summer, I had no limits. I ran mile after mile, day after day, did circuit training, and kept playing as much as possible. I knew whatever I did in the offseason would directly correlate to my success during the season. I was transformed into an entirely different athlete and human being because of those losses. I live by the quote:“
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
So, I lost. I lost badly. Can I change it?—no. Can it change me?—absolutely. It changed me for the better. I live for the game, the big moments, the memories—but all of it means so much more if I can avoid what I loathe the most. I loathe losing. I don’t just love winning, because I feel like I share that with too many of my opponents. In sports, just as in life—we all want to win. A hatred for losing can give you the uncommon edge. If you hate losing a splinter more than you love winning, you will be amazed at how far you will go to avoid it. I don’t consider it negative thinking as much as I consider it a different form of preparation. Sometimes the pressure to win can cloud the mind of the task at hand. Hate to lose and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll win.
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