What happens after losing? Or underperforming?
The default response for an infinite number of athletes is to be down.
To cry. To scream. To be silent. To cancel everything else in life. To say “No” to everything. To give up. To break something. To hit something. To be depressed. To question and ruminate everything. To doubt yourself even deeper. To blame yourself even harder. To keep your head down, looking at the ground and waiting for someone to save you from this dark spiral by saying “Are you alright?”
Losing triggers that for many athletes.
For hours…for days…for weeks.
An athlete recently told me, “If I win, I have a great week. If I lose, I have a shitty week.”
Another athlete told me, “If I have a date after a game…that I end up losing…then I cancel the date.”
To highlight the impact of losing, Pat Riley once famously said:
“There is winning and there is misery”.
What is your opinion?
Why do we feel so miserable after losing? Why don’t we bounce back faster?
- Is it because our disappointment is simply proportional to our pre-competition engagement?
- Is it because we are not emotionally intelligent enough?
- Is it because we secretly think that the deeper our sadness is, the more we will attract the attention of a person who will care for us?
All are probably true.
Yes, it’s a natural feeling (1). Yes, we always need to train our mental skills (2). And yes, we do need to be cared for by the people we love (3).
But then, if this post-losing disappointment is so unenjoyable, and if it does affect negatively all potential enjoyable moments later in your day/week, why do mentally tough athletes seem to “relish” the “scar” created by losing?
Because losing triggers anger, the desire for revenge or the motivation to prove something. These three emotions – anger, desire, and motivation – make us want to train harder and to be better next time.
Losing, like all challenges, makes us stronger.
So, if losing makes us stronger, should I really write a blog post about it?
Because what makes us stronger is “learning from losing”, not “being down for 3 days after losing”.
Imagine Athlete A and B.
Athlete A just lost on Sunday. On Sunday night or Monday morning, he has a short meeting with his coach and learns from this loss. Today, on Monday, he is back at practice with a different mindset, ready to execute a skill better.
Athlete B also lost on Sunday. But he’s down. He shuts down everything in his life. On Monday and Tuesday, he comes to practice but trains like a ghost and just goes through the motion. On Wednesday now, he’s back and really determined to get his revenge, one way or another. Athlete B also has a different mindset.
Athlete A and B both became better in a way. Both grew stronger.
The difference is that Athlete A is up 48 hours of deliberate practice on Athlete B.
Athlete A has a healthy level of post-loss disappointment, while Athlete B is not emotionally intelligent enough and loses 2 days.
The two other differences are that on Monday and Tuesday, Athlete A is happier than Athlete B. And while Athlete B only focuses on his own pain, Athlete A is able to be a better leader.
The quicker you recover from a loss, the happier you are, the better you lead, the faster you improve.
If Pat Riley was a young coach today, my guess is that he wouldn’t say “There is winning and misery” but rather:
“There is winning and there is learning”.
The original quote can be a trap for you because it can make you believe that if you feel miserable after a loss, then you are on the right track to be as successful as Pat Riley.
On the other hand, learning can be a happy place. As Anthony Robbins said, “Progression is happiness”.
“Misery”, however, cannot really take you anywhere bright. Sure, if you twist it a certain way, “misery” and “pain” and other variants can lead you towards athletic success.
However, I would like to argue that the athlete who quickly learns from losing succeed faster than the athlete who is down for 3 days and comes back with a kill list.
To conclude, here are 7 PRINCIPLES AND TACTICS to help you bounce back and recover quickly after a loss or an average performance:
1. Acknowledge It In A Healthy Way.
A loss is not everything and it’s not nothing. You should not dramatize it and you should not brush it off. A loss is something…that you are going to learn a lot from. That’s all it should be.
2. Stay Somewhat Positive.
Tell yourself something like, “Man, it’s amazing that I/we loss because it means that I am going to find out so many mistakes that I am making for the last time”.
Now, stop thinking about it. You gave your best. It’s over. Now, the priority is to recover.
4. Reframe Your Attention.
Keep your eyes on your ultimate goal and the next right thing to do to achieve it (Lebron James does this really well. After games, in press conferences, he is rarely super happy about wins and super sad about losses. He always insists on the fact that the goal is to be better for the next game).
5. Reframe Your Attention Again.
Ask yourself “What is important now?” (I don’t know what your answer will be but I am quite sure it won’t be “Ruminate how much pain this loss is making me feel”).
6. Rest, Recover, Relax.
Go back home, recover mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Give energy and especially attention to the parts of your life that are not sports-related.
7. Set Your Timer.
12 or 24 hours later, when your emotions are a lot more stable, sit down at a table by yourself or with someone who wants your success, set a timer to 20, 40 or 60 minutes and then analyze all you want about yesterday’s loss (the past). Learn everything you can from this average performance. When the timer rings, it’s over. There is no more analyzing and learning from the past. You already did. There is only “now” (the present) and what you need to do to take a step closer towards becoming The Best Athlete You Can Be.
Emotional intelligence is usually defined as the capacity to know what emotions you are feeling and to know what emotions other people are feeling.
It is also this: the skill to feel the right emotion at the right time.
I am with you,
PS: Pete Sampras said, “A champion is supposed to hate losing…but I learned to deal with losing without having my spirit or confidence broken”. This is your model. To be able to lose or underperform and to keep your spirit and confidence high at the same time.