The higher you set your aims, the more likely you are to experience a loss. How will you respond to the situation?
Losing sucks! There is no doubt the feelings of defeat are tough to cope with, no matter your age or level of play. No one enjoys losing, and facing the agony of defeat can prove troublesome to any athlete.
When we lose, it can seem as if the world is crashing down. Our confidence may plummet, and all the joy we once held so dear within the game can vanish in an instant.
There’s nothing worse than suffering losses over and over again, or is there? I would argue there is something worse…facing defeat and failing to take anything positive away from the situation.
I know, when in the midst of a loss, the last thing that seems possible is finding any ounce of positivity in that moment. But, the truth is, failure and defeat provide us with two options.
We can either allow the agony of defeat to eat at our psyche, leading to us feeling sorry for ourselves. Or, we can accept the defeat, learn something from the situation, and move forward.
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather choose the second option. But how can we accomplish such a difficult task, because truth be told, it’s not easy to find a ray of positivity amongst a cloud of failure.
The easy option is to give in, feel sorry for ourselves, and allow the defeat to turn into another, and then another, and then another, and so on. However, easy does not lead to success. We must learn how to face defeat with courage, taking away any lesson we can from the situation.
In order to do so, there are a few tips we can follow. But before diving into how you can better deal with the agony of defeat, let’s examine all the different ways you can be defeated, sounds fun right?!
Different Ways To Experience The Agony Of Defeat
When I say defeat, what comes to mind?
Do you think of that time your team lost in the semifinals? Or maybe your mind travels to the tryout you attended where you were turned away by the team you were so desperately hoping to join?
There are many different forms of defeat you can face as an athlete, none easier to cope with than the others. Defeat will first and foremost always be associated with what you give meaning to and what you think is important.
If you don’t care whether your team wins or loses, there will be no agony of defeat in your mind. Similarly, if you couldn’t care less whether or not you made that team, there would be no sadness and failure to manage.
But when a situation or event is meaningful to you, defeats can be overwhelmingly painful. I’ve experienced numerous defeats in my life as an athlete, some handled more gracefully than others.
In thinking back on my experiences and the ones I see play out for other athletes, two distinct forms of defeat become apparent: a team defeat and a personal defeat.
“There are many different forms of defeat you can face as an athlete, none easier to cope with than the others. Defeat will first and foremost always be associated with what you give meaning to and what you think is important.”
A team defeat is just what it sounds like, your team loses a game. As with most forms of defeat, this is one we all can relate to. I don’t know a single athlete who hasn’t dealt with losing a game. It’s just part of sports; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Being defeated as a team hurts so much because of the collective work and struggle you all have faced. A team must work together, training, motivating each other in their path towards success.
When you’re defeated, it can feel like an arrow in the heart after all that time and effort you all put forth together. This is even more emphasized at the end of a season.
Losing that last game, from personal experience, leaves the whole team deflated and sad, faced with the agony of defeat. All the optimism and excitement you began the season with has been wiped out with one final defeat.
Here we are talking on a more individual level. There are many different subcategories to a personal defeat. But they all revolve around the failure being faced by you individually, rather than the team as a whole.
One form of personal defeat is performing poorly. I’ve had games where it seemed like everything I did was wrong. Each play was an opportunity for another failure, and you can bet I succeeded at failing each time.
During these games, all I wanted to do was stick my head in a hole and hide. This type of defeat is sometimes worse than a team defeat because you feel the weight of the failure completely on your shoulders.
It can be an incredibly embarrassing event, one that can have lasting negative effects on your future performances if not handled in a positive way.
Another form of personal defeat is rejection. Now, rejection as an athlete is inevitable. It’s something we all will face at one point or another if we keep pushing ourselves and striving to reach a higher level.
We can be rejected from a team we are trying out for, or rejected from the starting lineup on your current team. Rejection also comes in the form of awards and accolades.
Maybe you had your hopes set on making an All-American team, or being on an all-conference team. If you fall short of receiving such recognition, it can be viewed as a defeat in your eyes.
How NOT To Respond to Defeat
Before we get into the positive ways you can cope with the agony of defeat, I think it will be helpful to examine all the ways you shouldn’t respond to defeat.
From a young age, I remember being told, “Don’t be a sore loser.”
This was sound advice, especially to a young boy who didn’t exactly handle losing in a graceful way. However, this statement is focused on other people. I was told not to be a sore loser, because of the impact my reaction had on others.
It wasn’t really aimed towards putting myself in a good position to succeed moving forward or ward off the depressive and negative thoughts/feelings that so often accompany a loss.
While we should all strive to be gracious losers, not throwing fits when we are faced with defeat, I want to take it a step further. We can appear to handle the loss well to others, but on the inside, our minds are full of turmoil and negative thinking.
If we strive to handle defeats in a positive way, we must look beyond simply appearing to not be a sore loser, but in fact, avoid certain forms of responding that are damaging to our psyche.
Internalizing The Defeat
One key way I used to cope with defeat is internalizing the loss, going over what happened again and again in my mind. I wasn’t working through the experience in a healthy way, but rather was focusing on all my mistakes.
I’d repeatedly go over what I did wrong and begin to berate myself for performing so lousy. Take the loss of a game for example. My reaction would often be to look at what I did wrong, and locate why the loss was my fault.
If you have adopted a similar approach, you know just how devastating this is to your emotional and mental well-being. I would realize the defeat was my responsibility, internalize it, allowing depressive thoughts to swarm my mind as a result.
“If we strive to handle defeats in a positive way, we must look beyond simply appearing to not be a sore loser, but in fact, avoid certain forms of responding that are damaging to our psyche.”
Focusing On The Negatives
Now, one of the main ideas I held to, and see many other athletes identify with, is the belief that we must focus solely on negatives in order to improve.
I love the idea of bettering ourselves on weaknesses, but we cannot forget to also give attention to our strengths. No matter how terrible a defeat was, I can guarantee you there was some positive you can take away from the situation.
You must be careful not to dwell fully on the negatives. I alluded to this in the previous section on internalizing the defeat. What happens is, we identify all the things we did wrong, and everything we need to work on in order to avoid a loss in the future.
Yes, it can be useful to find the areas you need to improve upon, but focusing solely on these mistakes actually hurts you more than it proves beneficial.
What this does is train your mind to locate negatives. The more you do, the lower your confidence will grow, negative self-talk will form, allowing anxiety, fear of failure, and many other mental game challenges to dominate your mind.
Taking The Defeat Personally
Wrapping our self-worth up in our performances is a recipe for disaster. I can attest to the terrible mindset that ensues when the value we place on ourselves is directly influenced by the way we play.
As an athlete, performer, or anyone else, it’s so easy to get so wrapped up in what we do, that we forget we are a person outside of our sport or profession. Our identity becomes intertwined with what we do.
Don’t get me wrong, when I would perform well, I would feel amazing. My confidence, self-worth, and sense of personal pride would skyrocket. Though, success often doesn’t occur as often as we’d like.
When I would perform poorly, or have what I would perceive to be a bad game, my emotional state would spiral downwards. I can remember waking up the day after a game feeling as if I was in a full-blown depression.
I would be embarrassed to walk to class and especially to show my face at practice that afternoon. This is the kind of emotional volatility we open ourselves up to when defeats are taken as personal hits to who we are.
Coping With The Agony Of Defeat
Now that you know how not to respond to defeat, it’s time to switch gears and show you how you can cope with the agony of defeat in a healthy way.
Knowing defeat of some form will enter each of our lives on more than one occasion, it’s important to develop a positive way to react in these situations.
It’s useless to try and avoid defeat altogether, as that places you in a vulnerable position to fear of failure and anxiety. Defeat is inevitable, especially the higher you set your goals. So it’s not whether or not defeat happens, but how you respond to it that matters.
Separate Yourself From The Defeat
The first tip is to separate yourself from the loss. In one of the ways not to react to a defeat, we discussed what happens when you take the loss too personally.
Well, if you don’t want to take it as a hit to who you are, what should you do instead?
The answer lies in separating yourself from the performance. I know this is not easy to do, as we tend to identify who we are with how we play. But, it is a must if you wish to handle defeat in a positive manner.
In order to separate yourself, you must remember you are a person first before a performer. There is you as a person and you so happen to play your sport. Allowing your identity to become too wrapped up in what you do will make separating yourself nearly impossible.
By separating yourself from the defeat, you place yourself in a very powerful position. What you can now do is take an objective view of the situation, without having it directly impact the way you feel.
“In order to separate yourself, you must remember you are a person first before a performer. There is you as a person and you so happen to play your sport. Allowing your identity to become too wrapped up in what you do will make separating yourself nearly impossible.”
Do Not Deny Your Feelings
On the flip side to separating yourself from the defeat, you also need to be sure not to deny how the loss makes you feel.
As we go about separating ourselves, it may seem like a safe option to suppress any feelings that may surface in regard to the performance. Doing so will only worsen the feelings and invite them to resurface at a future date.
Instead, you need to recognize the fact that you do care. It’s okay to care about a defeat, it’s okay to have a loss lead to you feeling a bit down. That is, as long as you don’t stay down.
Recognize and accept that you do care, accept your feelings that stem from the defeat, but don’t dwell on them. Know that you care so much, you want to ensure the defeat is put to good use, spun in a positive direction.
Focus On Any Positives
We know that focusing on the negatives is one of the worst ways we can handle a defeat, so the proper way must be to focus on the positives.
After you suffer a loss, whether it was personal or as a team, you must be careful as to where your mind travels. If left unchecked, it will surely begin to hone in on all the negatives.
What you need to do is take control of your mind by focusing on the positives. Yes, this is not easy. After a loss, the last thing you will want to do is begin scrounging through the layers of negativity to locate one ray of positive light.
However, it’s the only way you will turn the defeat into a learning experience. First focus on the positives, and then from there you can begin to examine the areas that require improvement.
Step Back And Ask Yourself, “What Can I Learn?”
A defeat will only be viewed as such if you fail to learn anything from the experience.
Sometimes, a loss can prove to be more useful than a win, as it highlights the areas you need to improve upon. Only through a setback will such insights be gained.
However, learning something from a defeat is only possible if you first separate yourself from the loss, accept the feelings you do have, and initially focus on the positives to put your mind in a strong position.
Once this mindset is developed you can ask yourself the powerful question of, “What can I learn from this experience?”
Remember, each loss puts you one step closer to success. And the agony of defeat will not be as painful if you can take away something positive in the form of learning from the loss.
“A defeat will only be viewed as such if you fail to learn anything from the experience. Sometimes, a loss can prove to be more useful than a win, as it highlights the areas you need to improve upon. Only through a setback will such insights be gained.”
Losing sucks, and is not something any of us are striving for. No one wants to be faced with defeat after defeat.
However, losses happen, and the higher you set your aims, the more likely you are to experience a defeat. So the question then shifts from whether or not you will face a loss to how will you respond to the situation?
Turning a negative experience like a defeat into something positive is a valuable skill. One that you can adopt through applying certain strategies.
When you are faced with a defeat, be sure to separate yourself from the performance, accept that you care, first focus on the positives, and once all this is done, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?”
If you follow these tips, you will be sure to handle the agony of defeat in a positive way.
I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did, please feel free to share it with your friends.
Defeats are common among athletes, which is why building a strong mindset is crucial to your long-term success. Learn how mental performance coaching can help you build a bulletproof mindset, ready to face any defeat that comes your way.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
How to Deal With The Agony Of Defeat was originally published in Better Humans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.