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Winning isn’t easy

Everyone in the national media is buzzing about Cal Tech’s first conference win since 1985 last night, snapping a 310-game conference losing streak. It’s a feel good story, because Cal Tech is home to some of the nation’s brightest college students.

Naturally, some of the comments on news articles (still, the worst invention on the internet, ever.) say things like “why continue to fund a team if they never win? Why not leave the conference?” Not only does it reveal an increasing trend in our society that reflects a need to monetize every thing in existence, but in the constant rush to put a dollar sign on an achievement for a program that never gave up; these people forget the most important lesson of all.

Winning is not easy.

The CalTech coach spoke to this after the game.

About how hard they worked, the preparation and the talent it took for them to reach this milestone. Notice I wrote the word milestone. Should we put this into perspective? After all, it’s just one conference win in the last game of the season, right? It’s perspective that helps us arrive at this point in the first place. It’s the thing that reveals why this matters. No one would fault any student at CalTech who didn’t want to play basketball. The women’s team lost last night and finished the season without any wins, which was a footnote in a few stories about the men’s team’s victory. Yet, these students and their packed workloads show up practice after practice, game after game and put in their work to expect better results the next time than the time before.

For twenty-six years, it was the same result in conference play. Entire classes could play four years, graduate and never experienced the jubilation witnessed last night. Anyone who’s played a sport at any level knows, that no one wants to be the team to lose to a team that’s lost perpetually. Those are the sorts of games you get excited about if you’re losing, because you figure you can notch a victory. So the President’s alma mater of Occidental certainly didn’t giftwrap any one-point wins last night either.

I felt compelled to write because so much of our focus is often on wins and losses. The result is important, but life is full of scenarios that can’t be boiled down simply into wins and losses. There’s preparation that it takes to produce those results and even if they’re not reflected on the court, field or whatever else; it doesn’t negate the work that went into the other team showing up and playing until the final buzzer.

Last night’s victory wasn’t about “nerds” who play a sport that’s the province of jocks. It’s a triumph for perseverance, dedication and for doing what you love each and every day. When you do something people think is a waste of time, there are often times when it’d be easier to succumb to the pressure and move on with your life. But when you succeed — even for a moment — no one can take what happens away from you. 

CalTech as an institution afforded us an opportunity to revisit this lesson last night. So congratulations and thank you.