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The Zak Zone

April 19, 2012

Last Sunday at church, our pastor asked us to take a few minutes to reflect on the things we're afraid of in a message that drove home the point that allowing our fears to paralyze us is not a healthy way to live.

As I sat there pondering the laundry list of things I fear — or have feared in the past — several fears — both rational and irrational — came to mind.

The first thing that came to mind was birds. When I was younger — old enough to ride in the front seat, but not old enough to drive is all the better I can classify it — I was frightened by an owl flying into the wind- shield directly in front of me.

While the car wasn't damaged, and I'm sure the owl showed more signs of wear and tear than I, my scar was a mental one.

I started to have this irrational fear of birds. Causing a flock to fly over my head and watching my reaction at the beach entertained my best friend's entire family throughout a week-long vacation in Florida.

But as I've aged, I've grown out of that one — for the most part.

Another fear I've sort of grown out of is my fear of bees.

When I was younger — funny how so many of these fears find roots in our childhood — I was stung by over 70 yellow jackets as my friend and I ran through the woods, and he crossed an underground nest.

As I followed through, I took the full brunt of their attack, which was a blessing, as one sting could have killed him due to an allergy.

What didn't kill me made me stronger, I suppose, but it also made me fear bees for years.

Now, while I still have a rational fear of bees, I don't let the fear of them paralyze me anymore.

But after allowing these childish memories of irrational fears turned rational to pass, my mind turned to more pensive thoughts of what I really do fear ... what I really do allow to paralyze me.

The more I contemplated, the more I realized that most of my "adult" fears can be encompassed with one word: Kakorrhaphiophobia.

I know, it looks like I sneezed while I was trying to type that, and don't even ask me to try pronouncing it, but I assure you I have checked the spelling twice, and kakorrhaphiophobia is the fear of failure or defeat. In simpler terms, it is the fear of losing.

The immediate joy that comes with winning is an amazing feeling, but I also believe the common consensus says that it's not the most amazing feeling.

Now, some athletes have become obsessed with the idea of winning and so they can't see the silver lining to the cloud.

But most would reflectively say, while looking back on their athletic careers, they found the most satisfaction in truly giving it their all.

Winning sure is fun, but pouring every ounce of what you have into a losing cause, believe it or not, feels just as satisfying after the initial sting of the loss wears off.

I'm not saying we should change to the mentality that, "We're all winners," and stop allowing athletes — from those in kids' recreational soccer leagues to professional athletes — to celebrate and enjoy their victories.

Learning how to win is important. When my team wins the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup or the ... ah, nevermind, we won't even mention the pennant. But when one of the teams I cheer for wins, I take a few minutes to celebrate.

When I lived in Pitts-burgh, and the Steelers won the Super Bowl, we didn't wait for them to return to town to start our parade.

We went outside waving our Terrible Towels, and cars driving down the street honked, hollered and waved to us. The city was given the opportunity to celebrate.

But we also knew that there were Arizona Cardinals fans across the country who were dealing with a loss, and two years later, though I didn't live in the city any more, Pittsburgh had to feel the sting of a losing effort.

There are inappropriate responses to losing, and unfortunately those are the ones we see on the news.

Throwing your television out the window or flipping over and burning cars and couches in a riot are not proper responses to losing.

But for every one individual who responds that way, there are 100 sitting at home responding as they were taught to do: Staring at the wall in disbelief, waiting for the ache to fade a bit.

It is essential to learn how to win and how to lose, and youth athletics is one arena for teaching those lessons. Because the truth is, losing extends beyond the world of sports, and we all have to learn to deal with it.

The old cliche is true: You win some, and you lose some. Your favorite teams will win some, and they will lose some.

But another cliche comes to mind, as well — one that is credited to Babe Ruth: Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.

Or, as many of us have modified it: Never let the fear of striking out stop you from playing the game.

If there's one thing the great slugger Ruth and I had in common during our baseball careers — his spanned 22 years in the Majors, while mine spanned four years in Little League — it's that we both struck out a lot.

The Bambino's magical number was his home run total, 714, which was a Major League record until Hank Aaron surpassed it in 1974. My home run total was infinitely smaller: Zero.

But in hitting 714 home runs, Ruth had to try to swing for the fences, and sometimes, that meant missing.

And miss he did, striking out 1,330 times in his career.

The sad thing is, Ruth's K total doesn't even put him in the top 30 on the all-time strikeout list — Reggie Jackson is at the top with 2,597.

While I didn't strike out nearly that many times in my short career, I struck out a lot.

But I had coaches and family and friends who encouraged me to keep playing, even though I was a sure out for their team almost every time I came to the plate.

Those folks understood the importance of teaching me how to win and how to lose, and for that I thank them.

Now, when my team loses, I don't immediately turn to throwing my TV out the window. While I may be upset, I try to take a few deep breaths, stare at the wall for a few minutes, allow the sting to subside a bit and go cook a few steaks,

Because hey, as the old adapted Little League pledge ends, "Win or lose, I will always get my burger and pop."

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