Losing – How to Get Over it and Why it can Actually be a Good Thing

Losing is essential to anyone’s success. The more you lose, the more you want to win.” Brett Hull

Winning is important for confidence and losing is necessary for learning.” Dr. Rakesh YashRoy (October 6, 2017). 

What happens when you lose a game?

Every time an athlete takes the field, there will be a winner and a loser. Most people don’t like losing, but losing is part of the game – and it is hard! Facing defeat and having to watch the other team’s players or your opponent throw victorious hands in the air after the demoralizing tick of the scoreboard is tough, whether you are a youth athlete or a professional. 

While winning may not be everything, it definitely is a great confidence boost. As a winner, you know that your tactics and your methods worked well and your hard work and training are paying off. 

Every person reacts differently to losing, but it is easy to get consumed with frustration, disappointment and anger at the things you think went wrong. Losing feels bad and causes emotional pain, especially if you have a deep love for the sport. 

Many athletes feel miserable and devastated after losing a game or competition. It is also normal to question your decisions and performance and get frustrated over mistakes after a tough game. These feelings may not be rational, but allowing yourself to feel what you feel – the anger, the anxiety and the distress – rather than denying or suppressing the disappointment is an important first step moving forward. 

However, if you keep replaying mistakes in your mind and only focus on criticising yourself for losses, you will be allowing self-critical behavior to impact your confidence and hurt your motivation during training and in future games. Prolonged negative reactions to losses become a mental burden that weigh you down and interfere with your ability to perform better in the next game. Focussing on mistakes can release stress hormones, increase anxiety and prevent you from improving athletically. 

So how do you get over a loss and use the information you take away from it to become a better athlete?

Letting Go 

The next important step after a tough match or competition is to “let go”. Letting go does not mean that you should simply forget about the last game. Instead, it requires a conscious choice where to place your focus for the future. If you let go of a loss, it will be easier to find takeaways and learn from your experience from a critical perspective without the emotional connection. 

Moving Forward

Once you have managed to put an emotional distance between yourself and your last game, start to focus on evaluating your performance by seeing the larger picture. There is no point to dwell on things that are beyond your own control. Nor should you place the blame on teammates or make it about other people. Instead, reflect on your own actions and think about what you could have done better and what you need to work on. The only thing you can control and alter is your own performance, so that is where you need to focus your energy.

A good starting point for an objective assessment of your own performance is to look at numbers that are clear indicators. This could be your statistics for the game, such as the percentage of shots made from the field or the number of points you scored in any given time frame. Through this you can identify weaknesses you can work on to improve. 

Next, start visualizing something positive that was achieved and focus on small “victories” within your game. Visualize moments in which you played well, when you were “in the zone” – performing at your best. This will provide you a goal to work towards and make you focus on your next game with optimism rather than anxiety and distress. 

Concentrating on what you can control and using the agony of defeat as motivation for the future will help you improve along the way and ultimately raise your game. 

What Losing Can Teach you that Winning Cannot

So far this article has concentrated on the cons of losing and how to get over it. However, there may actually also be some benefits to losing that winning does not have. 

Winning feels great, but winning all the time may become boring and make you complacent, thereby stopping you from working as hard because you become content with how things are. 

Losing on the other hand does not feel good, but it makes you want to work harder and achieve what you previously could not. Besides, learning how to cope with loss is an important life lesson as defeat is a big part of our life experience, not only in sport. Therefore, in terms of learning life lessons, and growing both as a person and an athlete, losing actually has a lot more to offer than winning.


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