Dead ends in the labyrinth

Another Wednesday night, and another defeat for my flag football team, Three Flies Up.

This week we played the Hassassins, who clearly have no sense of humor. Our scrappy squad against the Wall-Street-destined suit jockeys. While we screw around in huddles they economize their time with preset plays and begin eviscerating our defense in short order, maximizing their point flow.

They debate every call despite the fact that they are up 21 points at the half. Each time we burn ten seconds in a huddle someone on the other team complains in our general direction about our slow play.

At a certain point during the game, one of the Hassassins shouts to a teammate as they bump chests, “Get more greedy!” I had no idea we were playing against Gordon Gekko’s interns.

We mount a reasonable comeback late in the half with a timely interception ran back for a touchdown and a safety, but the prohibitive nature of intramural flag football’s clock means there isn’t enough time to score twice more.

We’re 0-4 now.

Week after week, the team emails sent out in the days before our games have urged us to do various things — flex our muscles, get “the W” and pay our registration fees among them. Yet each game seems to leave us with just as many questions as answers.

Who the hell is our quarterback?

Why do we get so many false starts?

Are there shoes I can wear that won’t be filled with these little black gravel pellets after the game?

And here we stumble onto the secret “benefit” of losing — experience, embodied by that old codger who everyone says is the best teacher around but is really just an ego-deflating asshole. Everyone knows that losing forces you to stare your limits in the face and give them a pep talk, but one of the real tools that loss gives us is motivation. You just have to work a little bit to figure out how this mechanism really operates.

Lots of people become cowed in the face of loss. Gamblers curse factors outside their control when they lose a big hand, and video game players are quick to blame faulty equipment or lag spikes for their repeated defeat. It’s all too easy to fall into despair where loss is concerned and wonder how you are ever going to win.

Besides, let’s face it: Losing sucks. Every sporting event you’ve ever seen contains a multitude of Shakespearean displays of grief that confirm this simple fact.

Ah, the tragedy of that Croation soccer player’s self-inflicted goal!

The way he’s biting through the front of his jersey and compressing his head with his hands tells you he’s contemplating Romeo-style suicide.

But therein lies the counterintuitive secret: Get mad at yourself, not outside factors.

This probably goes against everything your Little League coach told you.

“Billy,” they tell you, “don’t worry.

It’s only a game. You did the best you could.”

Bullshit. There is always something more you could have done to help try and stave off a loss. You ran the option one too many times and the other team caught on. You moved your queen out too fast and were overrun by pawns when your short game didn’t work out. The first step to learning from loss — similar to the same step from moving past any sort of grief — is acceptance.

What I mean by accepting loss is that you must accept one of either two things: either you failed to perform at your highest level, or you were outclassed, meaning that your skills are not where they should be.

Either way, it boils down to your own game. The anger or disappointment one feels when losing stems from a sense of inadequacy. If so, it is important not to let this inadequacy dictate the way one trains oneself to be a better gamer. It’s not simply about practice — having the right attitude about losing is the most important thing to learn from loss.

That’s why when I miss a dig on the volleyball court or fail to drain my cup playing 7-11-doubles, I allow myself a brief moment of self-reflection. I screwed up — now how can I fix it? And not knowing the answer is fine. What’s more important is acknowledging the fact that you will hit dead ends as you try to escape the labyrinthine confines of loss.

Only when you bump into enough walls will you find the win.

This is why, as much as I would like to blame the Hassassins’ cockiness and rules-mongering attitude for Three Flies’ Up’s loss, I realize that the team only has itself to blame. And when the day comes for our revenge in playoffs (if we even make it that far), we will be able to channel our disappointment from the first loss into a ferocious battle on the gridiron.

Game on.