Losing To Win

“Losing is part of the game. If you never lose, you are never truly tested, and never forced to grow.” — David Sirlin, Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion

The pain of defeat…

I am currently part of a team and it seems we are always losing. Thrice over the past year we have finished second, falling short at the last hurdle. It has been painful, at times even difficult to understand.

I am not unique, every one, every coach and every team loses at some point and we all have to deal with the bitter disappointment that comes with defeat.

It can be difficult to handle, however, it is important to remember losing is really just a highway on the way to the top; sometimes, you even have to endure a sustained period of defeat before you can finally climb the hill.

There are examples; Germany fell at the semi-finals or later at four successive major tournaments between 2006 and 2012 before they finally broke through and won the 2014 Fifa World Cup.

Germany was a great team before, they just weren’t ready yet. Eventually, though, their collective experiences as a team lifted them over the mountaintop and to the Promised Land.

And, that is how it goes.

Losing is a stepping stone and the following steps will help you make it so:

1. Keep the loss in perspective

Losing can be devastating, especially when you feel you have done all you can. Defeat can, therefore, be difficult to understand and accept.

The most important thing to do after a loss, then, is to keep things in perspective.

Don’t lose sight of the wider context: the next game, tournament or season.

In most cases you are just short in a few areas, tactically or technically, not the disaster you perceive. It may be you only need tiny tweaks to finally reach your goal, but you will only realise this by keeping your calm and perspective.

2. Take the lessons

“Losing is only temporary and not all encompassing. You must simply study it, learn from it, and try hard not to lose the same way again. Then you must have the self-control to forget about it.” — John Wooden, 1001 Motivational Messages and Quotations for Athletes and Coaches

Although difficult, it is vital to then study the defeat. If there is video available, study the game tapes and plays which went wrong. If not, try replay the game in your head and make notes. This is a great way of giving closure to a match. I always try to re-visualise a game and write a summary with lessons.

Writing helps bring clarity and accentuates the first step, perspective.

So, take the lessons; try to understand and absorb them. The key is to know your errors so you don’t repeat them again next time.

After a series of disappointments, Germany finally broke through to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup. (Pic: Reuters)

3. Work on your mistakes

After finding the lessons now you have to work on them diligently. A loss in a final game of the season would give you the whole post-season to work on shortcomings. In mid-season the same principles apply, just over a shorter period. The focus would only be sharper and a little fun added to the process just to lift the mood.

The mental part is also crucial.

You have to really understand the moments from a game lost. Perhaps you were not composed or indecisive at key junctures. Work to understand your thought processes and, with that clarity, strengthen your mental approach. Next time a big game or moment comes, you are ready. You are calm and aware that, if you have prepared well, you have everything under control.

4. Stay positive and look forward

You can learn most when you lose and, if you do, you will eventually get over the hill.

After a defeat it is important to keep going. Don’t let the disappointment of losing stop you from achieving what can be attained next. It is vital to remain positive. Look forward to using the setback as a stepping stone to greater things. Hopefully next time it will be you on the podium.

As for me and my team, I believe we will ultimately make it to the top of the tree. Sometimes you have to lose to win.

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