Losing in Sports

No one likes to lose, yet in every competition there are winners and losers based on the scoreboard tally. In my competitive days, I hated to lose. There was nothing worse than coming out on the short end. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who actually enjoyed losing either as a competitor or as a coach.

There are so many reasons why a team or individuals lose in competition. The opponent was bigger, stronger and faster, the other team just played better, their athletes and coaches were better prepared or the referee’s made too many bad calls. But are these reasons or excuses? I suspect it is probably a little of both.

As I dig deeper, this topic boils down to two basic questions: Were the reasons a team lost within their control, or was the defeat attributed to outside factors out of their control? For example, if an opponent scores late in the game because of fatigue and mental miscues, those factors were controllable through better preparation. But coaches and athletes tend to blame other factors outside of their control for their failures.

As humans, I believe we’re wired this way in order to protect our psyche. It’s easier to find blame than it is to accept defeat. Certainly, there are instances in competition were the opponent just had more talent or a bad call changed the outcome. But I think these are the aberration and not the norm in athletics. The greatest lessons in sports tend to come in defeat rather than in victory.

The most important principle in competitive sport both for individuals and teams is the process athletes must go through — doing anything and everything within their control by training and preparing both physically and mentally more than their opponents. They must put in the time and effort to be the best that they are capable of becoming. Anything less than their best leaves room for excuses. Everybody has the innate desire in wanting to win but how many of those are willing to do what is required?

The one dynamic that should be mentioned regarding team sports is that individual members can only control their efforts, yet their teammates commitment or lack thereof has direct impact on the team results. This can be frustrating and detrimental to the culture of a team if one teammate is not committed to excellence.

Promoting excellence in athletes on and off the field requires a unique and dynamic culture. A culture that promotes a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions and beliefs while creating an environment of no excuses and personal accountability. A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values that actively guide the way the team operates. Coaches and teams must be actively engaged in building this elusive team culture. It can’t be bought and, to develop, it must be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the leadership team down.

A vibrant culture provides a contagious, cooperative and collaborative environment for the athletes to pursue their utmost potential. And when this happens, even if the scoreboard isn’t in their favor, they will be satisfied knowing they did everything within their control to be their best. That in itself is a long way from losing.

Editor’s Note: Timothy Mellott is an active Urbana community member who founded the Southern Frederick County Youth Athletic Facilities, coaches Predators Wrestling, and is an FCA Character Coach at Urbana and Seneca Valley high schools. Mellott lives in Ijamsville with his wife, Beth Ann, and son, Parker.

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