Suffering a high profile loss is just about the most devastating phenomenon an athlete encounters in their playing career. When the last buzzer sounds and they come to grips with the fact that they have come out on the losing end, their mind is a flurry of thoughts: What else could I have done? Was all my work in vain?
The first thing to accept is that no matter how talented or well prepared an athlete is, they are never invincible to defeat. It may come when in the gym alone with a teammate better than them, or in front of twenty thousand adoring fans. It may be a hot-shot rookie making a novice mistake, or a veteran realizing that their physical gifts are not what they once were. Betting favorites will lose to underdogs, cocky teams will forget the fundamentals and blow a winnable game. Because no matter what the rise of analytics in sports might indicate, competition based on human physicality will never be an exact science.
Athletes make themselves vulnerable all the time in competition, because they want to prove that they are the best. However in doing so, they are also opening themselves up to the possibility of cruel defeat. For competitors however, this is worth the risk every time, because the rewards move them closer to their dreams of greatness. Still, you would be hard pressed to find legend or hall of fame athlete that hasn’t tasted defeat—in individual or team sports. The reason why these legends and hall of famers reached their status is not solely based on their successes however, but also by how they handled their defeats.
It may sound bizarre to refer to a defeat as a “good loss,” but that's not just a saying to make a defeated athlete feel better. It’s a realization of how important it is to remember that defeats often provide valuable lessons in regards to an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. A loss will almost never make an athlete worse by itself, but the mentality with which an athlete responds to a loss can definitely make them worse.
For example, a mixed martial artist who responds to a knockout by stating that their opponent got in a “lucky shot” and then proceed to approach the rematch with that mindset will not get better. Instead, they could study their footwork and feints in the lost fight and zero in on how their approach before the knockout strike left them open to such a result.
By accumulating lessons from a loss, an athlete not only prepares themselves to be better for a potential re-match, but to also be better overall. And by adopting a positive mindset that builds confidence and motivates them to be even better prepared mentally and physically, an athlete will grow to be the best version of themselves that they can be—regardless of any future outcome.
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