I know that many times my teaching life crosses over into my farm column and I apologize for that, but I see so many corollaries that sometimes it is scary.
Tonight, however, my coaching life and my agricultural life have hit an intersection and it is still a sore topic for me, but one that makes an invaluable lesson.
In case you were not aware, I spend my summers and fall coaching the varsity volleyball team. I approach this as I approach most things in my life, with an unwavering passion, enthusiasm and a wholehearted belief that we will win. The rational part of my brain knows and understand that winning every game, every time, is quite a feat — not impossible, but a feat to say the least.
My driving passion is that every night my girls play better than the night before and that we show growth, teamwork and, most importantly, we become better people. Honestly, long after the awards collect dust, the memories make us smile and the joints begin to creak, my end goal is to make young ladies who are the best possible version of themselves. The winning is just a nice component.
However, that does not mean I am good at losing. It is still a skill I am working on, and I am less than perfect at accepting defeat.
Tonight, I had to accept defeat, and it was painful and I hated every moment of it. Yet, as I reflect on this loss, I hope these are moments that prepare my girls for life because as we know life isn’t always about winning.
As I wander down memory lane, I think about my experiences in agriculture or on the farm that prepared me to savor the taste of victory and harden me in times of loss. I look back to my first time losing a beloved pet. I remember crying so hard when my dog, Lucky, died.
He had been a stray that had wandered into my father’s truck on a snowy evening when I was a small child, and he was the first animal that I considered mine. He greeted me almost every day for 12 years, and I remember sobbing silently into my pillow the night he passed away.
However, he was not my last pet to move over the Rainbow Bridge. Each one hurt the same, but it did not lessen my capacity to love animals or close myself off from getting a new pet. These losses have taught me how to control my emotions more effectively and to look at the positives, which is not always an easy task when your heart feels torn in two.
I remember trying and trying and trying and trying to be able to loosen parts on machinery or fix something, and each time my attempts would be met with failure. The frustration, anger, tears and overwhelming feeling of being a failure would sometimes sneak in and cloud my judgment, feeding that little voice in my head that did not have anything nice to say at that moment.
Those moments and that voice still sneak up on me occasionally, but I am getting better at recognizing it and shutting it down. Even tonight, after the loss, my first question to myself is, ‘What can I do better to make them better?’ This self-evaluation keeps me constantly learning, but it is often very hard for me when I realize that my errors have been the cause of our loss.
Those moments, only a second frozen in time, happened frequently throughout my childhood, teen years and still today. For some kids, it would have broken them, but for me, it made me stronger. It made me into the student and athlete I was and the adult I would become.
Even though those losing moments are still hard for me to concede gracefully, I hope that while I cannot provide the farm experience for everyone, that I can teach these girls how to be gracious in winning and classy in losing through sport. Because if we stop and think for a moment, both sports and farming have a lot in common — from an element of luck, to preparedness, to resiliency and beyond, both agriculture and sport can provide youngsters will the experiences needed to succeed in the world.
So as any good athlete or farmer will tell you, off-season starts tomorrow, and it is time to analyze, prepare and make plans to tackle the upcoming year, both on the court and in the field.
Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau and who has completed her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca Township.
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