Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Heart of a Champion.

Zachary on Saturday after his game

Everybody wants to be a winner
and take their place at the top
Everyone wants their name up in lights
for the good times never stop

Sometimes the bad luck
will creep up and catch you by surprise
Your mind's confused
You feel misused
You've got to leave those troubles behind

Sometimes you win
Sometimes you lose
Sometimes you want to cry
Sometimes you play the fool

You gotta hold on
a little longer
You try to be
a little stronger
and you can win
you can win
and everything
is gonna be yours

~ Anita Baker


Last year his team was undefeated. We played ten football games and not a single one ended with us doing anything other than victory dances. And that? That was a great experience. It was not only Zachary's introduction to football but really mine, too. So cheering for a winning team on your first go around the block was pretty darn awesome.

Yeah, it was.

Last year, Zachary was still learning the game. He was confused on plays more often than not and, though he eventually got the hang of it, wasn't necessarily a star on the team. But this year? This year has been different. He's older and stronger. He's smarter and faster. And this time? He's one of the team leaders. One of the "bigger boys" who sets the tone and often makes the touchdowns and winning tackles. In other words, he's a pacesetter and part of the climate-control for team morale much like the seven year-olds were on his team last year.

Zachary's team has been very good this year. But no, they aren't undefeated like last year. And I can tell that he truly expects to win always. That doesn't bother me so much. It makes him go harder and give more of himself. And usually it pays off.  That said, he had to learn some hard lessons at his last game. Harry and I found out fast that our son had to understand how to handle failure.

Yeah, man.

When his team fell behind, I could tell he was getting frustrated. Even in full pads, I could see it in his body language. His shoulders slumped and his feet shuffled. With each play, he went into it with less and less zeal. And you know what happened? Many of the other kids followed his lead.

His team lost. And not only did they lose, they lost big. To a team that they'd blown out just three weeks before. Zachary was devastated.

We talked a lot about it after the game. I asked him about his feelings and admitted that it surprised me to see him give up. He immediately started crying. I gave him a big hug and kissed him on the top of his head. "You're a leader, son. Remember that. Leaders take losses and learn from them."

"We should have beat that team."

"Okay. Maybe so, Zachary. But what did you learn?"

"I don't know, Mom."

"Zachary, you have to have the heart of a champion even if you're losing. If you are giving your best effort, then you have nothing to be sad about. You can't drop your head. You have to run hard to the end no matter what. Does that make sense?" He just stared at me with wet eyelashes. "Z? Do you think you gave your best for the whole game today?"

"At first I did. But then I didn't."

"You won't always win every game. But that doesn't mean you're not always a winner."

"Dad said I'm a leader so I can't do things I did last year."

"Dad is right."

"Your favorite player Ray Lewis lost a lot of big games before winning the Super Bowl. And one time? This one guy named Michael Strahan was in the Super Bowl and his team was losing by a touch down. It was the very, very end of the game, too. Everybody thought the other team was going to win, too. But since he was a team leader he got in everybody's face and told them really loud, 'The final score will be 17 -14! Believe it and it will happen!'"

His eyes widened. "Did they win?"

"Yep. And the final score was 17 -14! Crazy right?"

"Is it on a YouTube video?"


"The 17 -14 thing. And the Ray Lewis thing. Can you show me on YouTube?"

And seeing as everything is on YouTube I gave him this answer. "Probably."

And you know what happened next? I sat with my boy and we watched YouTube clips exemplifying the heart of a champion. And we talked and explored and reflected on what it all meant. We also came up with ideas for what you should do when you lose or you're losing.

"You gotta stay pumped up like Ray Lewis!" Zachary said with new found excitement. "And you have to keep on trying for the next time if you lose. You gotta believe you can win it, too."

"Yep. You have to take the loss and make yourself go even harder. That's how the heart of a champion gets strong."

"Ray Lewis lost a lot?"

"Did he? Oh man, he did. Some really disappointing losses, too. And not just him. A lot of champions lost before they won. Or they won and lost and went harder until they won again."

"I'm gonna go harder."

"You know what, son? Me, too."

After that, I showed him one more YouTube video--and I realized that it was just as much for me as it was for him:

Here's what I know for sure: Everything can't be victory and roses. And even the most beautiful rose gardens need a little dirt and failure to grow.


Happy Sunday. And I want you to know that Zachary has been doing the Ray Lewis dance ALL DAY.

Here's the videos we watched in addition to the one above. . . . 

This one was our favorite:

At the end of this one is the actual footage of Strahan pumping up his losing team in Super Bowl 42. (Ignore the weird part about Tony Romo that lasts 2 seconds.)

And lastly this song has been on my mental iPod. . . I also played for Zachary today and he liked it. It was one of Auntie Deanna's favorite songs.


  1. Zachary's got some of the BPE (Best Parents Ever). I know a few coaches that also try to teach that it is just as important to be a good loser as it is to be a good winner, but have horror stories about parents that don't get it. I love that you are teaching your kids (and the rest of us) that there is always something to learn.

  2. Parenting, man. That right there? Gold.

  3. You're such good parents, Dr. Manning. As the mother of two jocky boys, I can attest to going through seasons of some sport or another where the team LOST every single game. It sucks, but it makes those boys stronger and better sports, always. By the way, I love the MJ video. Did you know he was in my class at UNC?

  4. That is some fine mothering, Zach is going to be successful because of his losses, not in spite of them.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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