U24's Tuesdays: On Losing

When I made the Stingrays I remember a part of me feeling as though the hard work was over. The selection process to make u24 team this year was months long from EOI to selection camps and all of the training and stressing we did in between. And I’m not talking about regular nerves; I’m talking spreadsheets of feedback and vision boards level keen. Actually making the team, getting my hands and my number 10 on a green and gold jersey, making the facebook post. I thought that was the battle won. The hill climbed. Thank you, next.

I thought of last year’s stingrays and imagined what it would be like to do so well. The legacy we were following on from felt heavy, a team that has meant a lot to many before us. It made me feel small in a good way, part of something much bigger than just me, or just this group. I Imagined them watching the live stream at home like we have all done before, congratulating us on the wins, wishing us luck in the semis.

Not to spoil the surprise, but that’s not what happened.

Photo cred: John Kofi - The Ultimate Life

Don’t get me wrong I knew worlds would be hard. I knew we would be pushed physically, matching up on the best players in our age group. Staying focussed despite exhaustion during a 7 day tournament is no small feat, and I knew all of our mental strength training would be put to the test. Hard was a given.

But man, I firmly believe that nothing could have prepared me for how hard WU24UC was. In case you missed it, the Stingrays had 3 losses on universe, 5 losses not on universe, and two wins. We also drew 1st in spirit with New Zealand, however WFDF rules dictate that the higher placing team be recognised as spirit winners. Yes, somehow we even lost spirit, on universe.

There’s no sugar coating it, that’s a whole lot of Ls.

Losing like this, losing so much was devastating and unfamiliar. Australian teams go pretty well on the world stage. With a few exceptions, Australia can usually be expected in the top 5 across the divisions pretty reliably. And individually, there just isn’t enough high stakes competition in Australia to know what it’s like. “I’ve only played one club season and it was for Ellipses” said our co-captain. So infrequently have we had to be gracious losers when we are actually invested in the outcome, we still feel embarrassed by it. The legacy. The Stingrays alumni watching at home. The dreams of backing up the medals of last year. How could we face everyone back home?

The reality is that we just couldn’t get it together. Perhaps someone else will write an article about the many reasons why. In our own private reflections we are all harshest to ourselves only. This team is so filled with genuine support for each other that I’m sure we will defend each other’s abilities and choices to anyone who asks. But damn, we just could not make ourselves win.

Maybe whatever powers that be, God or karma or Drake looking down on us, thought we were getting a little too big for our cleats. Maybe one of us pissed off an ancestor somewhere along the line. Or someone broke a mirror a couple years ago. Or maybe we just weren’t as good at ultimate as we thought we were.

It’s never just the losing itself that hurts, we have all lost games and tournaments and barely felt it. A team I captained at UniGames only won 1 game in a week long tournament; we were bagel-ed at least once and also ended up coming second last. Demoralising on paper, but in reality it was a fun week. We laughed at ourselves and had a great time regardless, because we didn’t really care. Losing a game you don’t care about winning is easy. Not trying is easy. It’s when you pour your heart into each game, scream yourself hoarse on the sideline, run yourself ragged, graze up your elbows and give yourself to the game, and still lose. That’s when it fucking sucks.

We were so close. We were Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote but losing the electoral college. Footballers losing on penalty shootout. We were Ronda Rousey that time she got kicked in the head. Ouch. But I will never be embarrassed to be a part of this team. Because blow after blow we got back up. Day after day we didn’t stop coming out singing and dancing our way through warmup and stepping back onto the line believing that the next one would be different.

I’ve asked myself what would have changed if we had won those games; say we had 3 universe point wins instead of losses.

Would we have had more fun? Maybe

Would we have cried less? Probably (but not guaranteed)

Would we have gotten more out of it? Unlikely.

What we learned from our losses was undoubtedly more valuable than what we would have gotten out of wins. We learned the hardest way how to push through adversity and give our all anyway. You can’t replicate that kind of mental strength training. Nothing can be as hard as being repeatedly punched in the face every day by the sport you love. Winning feels nice but doesn’t teach you much.

This is definitely Erin. Photo cred: Brian Mackenzie

It was probably around the second universe point loss that I was reminded of a favourite quote (from everyone’s favourite white woman TED talk). It’s too long to put in here but I’m doing it anyway, it’s that good.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt

Feels pretty familiar, hey.

If there’s anything I gained from this campaign it would be a thorough taking down a peg (which look, I guess I needed). I understand the immense privilege I experience to be able to fly across the world, wearing a schmick couple hundred dollars worth of kit, staying in a nice hotel with some of my best friends and playing the sport that I love. And maybe it took getting the shit kicked out of us to truly appreciate what we were doing.

I am so humbled by the talent we were up against. The throws by the Japanese, the composure of NZ, the height of the Swiss and the heart of the Belgians. There’s something special about getting beaten by people your own age, who may have been playing for the same amount of time as you. It’s profoundly inspiring to have players you look up to who you can truly see yourself in; heroes who look and talk and play like us.

But time marches on as it always seems to do and all of a sudden it’s over. The campaign and the tournament and our own personal story of our team are now sealed in glass behind us. We cannot tamper with it as much as we would try. Time and the fondness that comes with hindsight will no doubt colour how we retell the stories of worlds and maybe it will be a little less tragic. With the pain of losing a little less fresh I’m sure we won’t remember the details of exactly which one of us threw it away on universe point and we may be slightly kinder to ourselves for our own mistakes.

So pour one out for the 2019 Stingrays, but don’t feel too bad for us. We had a rough go of it but man, we got back up again and again. Cheers to us for choosing to be in the arena.


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