How to Make the Most of a Loss
No soccer team sets out to lose. Athletes, even young ones, are typically competitive, motivated individuals who want to perform well and be rewarded with a W on the score sheet at the final whistle. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Fortunately, we can learn valuable lessons from losing with the right approach to the disappointment.
In July 2018, heavyweight boxer Ed Latimore lost a nationally televised bout in under three minutes. The ref had to call the short-lived match after his opponent landed a powerful first-round punch. “It’s a terrible way to lose and it was live for the whole world to see,” Latimore said afterwards.
Turning the loss into a learning experience, he shared several insightful observations. Noting that you are never as good as bad as people say you are when you win or lose, he suggested “it’s impossible to accurately assess your level immediately after you lose.” But, he added, a loss can be a good opportunity to reflect on where you stand. You might consider:
• Did you make mistakes?
• Is a different course of action required?
• Should you reconfigure your goals?
Nevertheless, living by the words of UCLA football coach Red Sanders that “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” can put too much pressure on young players. Instead, it’s healthier to embrace losing as an essential part of winning.
We’re not saying you’re going to feel good about a loss right away. Consider John Terry’s tears on the field in the 2008 European Champions League final when the Chelsea team captain missed his PK and caused his team to lose. He was devastated, but he bounced back.
Handling a Big Loss
Losing can be a wake-up call. Winning all of the time fosters complacency. Learning from losing sees the athletes learning where they have weaknesses and working to improve and develop further.
“I will not lose, for even in defeat, there’s a valuable lesson learned, so that evens it up for me.” — Jay-Z in Blueprint 2
Debriefing is a critical part of a team loss. While trying to avoid individual blame, the members of the team can consider what challenges they experienced in that particular game. This should be done on the day of the loss or failure. It’s OK to be upset, but being able to shake hands with opponents and say supportive things to your own team mates is part of good sportsmanship.
If you focus on one person’s mistake, and allow anger and frustration to poison your team, it will only be harder to play together as a unit in the future. Don’t forget that soccer is a team sport, so its important that every individual take a loss as an opportunity to rally and refocus around a common goal.
At the same time, it’s important to look forward. Beating yourself up about the own goal in a semifinal or holding on to doubts about your teammate’s fitness to play after a botched play can keep the failures coming. Instead, focus on playing well in the next practice and showing up strong in the next game.
Part of an athlete’s long-term success rests on his ability to roll with the ups and downs of the game — stay positive and focus on the future which he can control, rather than getting bogged down by the past.
Ultimately, losing provides perspective. For athletes and their parents. Sports psychologist Caroline Silby told the Washington Post encouraged parents and athletes to talk about games or seasons that end badly without getting angry, blaming unskilled players, or dwelling on the loss. Staying silent about the loss can send an even more powerful message to young athletes — failure is so bad it can’t even be talked about.
The Changing the Game project recommends three simple questions to pose after a disappointing finish:
• What went well out there?
• What needs work?
• Why are we better because we lost today?
Always keep in mind that Mutiny’s focus is on development. That means there will be wins and losses. If not, the players are not being challenged enough. What we want to see is continued learning and improvement. That comes from positive attitude and hard work that recognizes this is all a process — even if sometimes it’s great and other times its ugly.