I think that coming in second should be more of a badge of honor than it is.
If you are in second place, it means that you were right there in the hunt all the way to the bitter end, but without the glory that comes with winning. You trained, practiced, committed the time and likely did all the things the first place winner did, but without the accolades that come from victory. As Teddy Roosevelt said, you were “in the arena.”
All of the tournaments and competitions are structured so that the second best team in the field that year inherently ends their season with a loss. The Cleveland Indians went further than all but one team in baseball, but were seen as losers rather than ahead of 28 other franchises. Gonzaga made it to the Final Two in basketball — ahead of 66 other teams in the tournament (not even counting all those that did not make the Big Dance), but North Carolina took home the trophy and the Bulldogs focused on becoming 37-2. The Atlanta Falcons made it to overtime of the Super Bowl, but they, too, walked off the field with a loss instead of being celebrated for being ahead of 30 other teams.
This phenomenon happens outside of sports as well. The number one salesperson is just slightly ahead of the person who sold the next highest level. The valedictorian has a grade point average that is infinitesimally ahead of the saluatorian. The pie that wins the Red Ribbon is just as tasty as the one that takes home the Blue.
Yes, it is nice to wear the Gold and to savor the sweet taste of victory. But let’s also applaud those who exert that extra ounce of effort that gets them into the finals in the first place. Sometimes it’s not on whether the season ended with a win or a loss, rather at what point and in which arena the team finally had to bow out.