There isn’t much chance the Nationals will make the playoffs, but there are still plenty of chances to learn the rest of the season. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Following Tuesday’s game, the Washington Nationals are 14 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division. They are 81 / 2games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild card and a place in the playoffs.

That’s a big comedown for a team that folks predicted would go to the World Series. Some fans now think the Nats are playing the rest of the season for nothing.

I’m not so sure. Let me explain by telling you a story.

Years ago, I coached my son’s soccer team. The boys were an enthusiastic group that didn’t lose a game during their first season or two. They thought they were soccer stars.

Then we moved into a tougher league. One week, a series of SUVs pulled up to the field and out popped a soccer machine. The kids had perfectly matching uniforms and passed as if they were Manchester United.

Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) greets Bryce Harper (34). ( Jonathan Newton )

My kids couldn’t keep up. The score at the half was 5-0.

During the break, the parents handed out orange slices and the team gathered around waiting for what the coach could tell them. Here’s what I said:

“Kids, there is no way you can win this game. The other team is faster. They have much better skills. And they are much better coached. So you are about to learn one of the hardest lessons in sports: You can’t quit; you have to play the second half. But I promise you, if you play hard, something good will come of it. But it won’t be today, because there is no way you can win this game.”

The parents were shocked. They thought I was going to tell the team that we could come back. The kids, however, seemed to understand.

They played hard in the second half even though they had no chance of winning. In fact, we played the soccer machine to a scoreless tie for the rest of the game.

They also learned a valuable lesson. The team was going to have to hustle and play hard just to stay close in games. I think the team won a game later that soccer season and had a couple of hard-fought ties. But they also became better basketball and baseball players because of what they had learned.

It’s the same with the Nats. Washington’s baseball team has almost no chance to win the National League East or slip into the playoffs. But if the team plays hard all the way through the season, something good may come of it down the line.

You see, sometimes when you are playing for nothing, you are actually playing to find out what kind of player and what kind of team you really are.

And that’s a lot to play for.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 19 sports books for kids, including nine baseball books.