Learning to Lose

By: Nick B.

Losing is the hardest part of being a competitive athlete. I have been on both sides; one in jubilation of accomplishing what was set out for at the beginning of the season, the other, on one knee with tears in the eyes, watching the other team celebrate their victory.

The lessons I learned through sports are endless. Like any other athlete, I could carry on for hours with stories and what I learned from these experiences.  I was fortunate enough to have some success over the years, winning a few provincial championships and the odd tournament here and there. But, the most significant lessons and memories don’t come from my success. The times and places where I learned and grew the most came from the losses.

The competition element of sports is being challenged in youth sport and the prospect of winning and losing is being replaced with a participation and fair play based mentality.  I will concede that this may be a step in the right direction towards eliminating the over-competitive nature in youth sports, but it is a few steps too far. Competition is a part of sport. Oxford Dictionary defines Sport as an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. Part of the reason we compete in sport is for the feeling you get during competition.  It is a big part of the experience.

One of the biggest things I learned from losing was how to win. As a 12 year old, I had the privilege to pay on a stacked Pee Wee hockey team that went undefeated through an entire regular season.  The only loss of that whole year came in the Provincial Championship game. This was a devastating shock to seventeen 12-year-olds who hadn’t lost a hockey game in over 6 months as a group.  Two years later, most of that Pee Wee team was re-assembled and we worked our way back to the Bantam Provincial Finals.  We were able to win this game with inspiration and lessons we had learned 2 years before. A similar situation happened when I played High School hockey.  We took a strong team to the finals, only to come up short again.  One year later, and one year more experienced, we were back in the provincial finals. Playing with much more confidence and composure, we were able to win that game in overtime. The same principles could be translated to adulthood.  You could apply for a job and be denied.  But through the process, there are lessons to be learned and experience to be gained that could help when the next job opportunity comes around.  Aerosmith summed it up well in their song “Dream On”, You got to lose to know how to win.

 Although losing isn’t the most enjoyable aspect of sport, it can still contribute to positive youth development. Coaches and parents need to help develop the proper attitude around losing. If youth are taught how to “lose properly” then they can develop the skills that can only be learned through losing.

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5 Responses to Learning to Lose

  1. b6m9 says:

    I agree with the information in this blog that many athletes in today’s society have never been afforded the opportunity to lose. By protecting the athletes and being a helicopter or lawn mower parent and protecting their child from these experiences is doing more harm than good. Parents have good intentions, however losing builds character and prepares them in overcoming challenges that they will encounter in life. The fact that all players get a medal or ribbon for showing up takes away the competiveness and drive of the athlete to better themselves by working hard to get results. Like the article states use the losing moment as a teaching moment as a coach on how to prepare and make changes to have a different result in the future. The values obtained at a young age will carry over into adulthood and if you are taught to take the good with the bad then you can become a gracious loser, a skill many young athletes of today lack in my opinion. Losing in sport in my opinion will help prepare youth for many of the negative experiences they will encounter in life as an adult and allow them the opportunity to overcome these obstacles and succeed in their future endeavors.

  2. l8q90 says:

    Great post Nick, I agree 100%. I’ve also had my fair share of wins and losses throughout my childhood. Through various sports through schooling, which mostly accounted for the losses because OHS was not very good at anything, but also for a number of wins. The greatest impacts that i can recall from my experiences as a kid were from my terrible high school soccer team. We were the opposite of your hockey team, to say the least. We played the entire season winning probably one or two games, and we knew were weren’t very good. At the start of the season we were always upset when we lost, but after a while we accepted that we weren’t very good and changed our mindset about the game. Instead of playing to win every time, we tried to use each game as an opportunity to learn. Trying out different risky plays and taking all the positive aspect of the game instead of focusing on the negative (us losing every game). By doing this we actually improved a lot as a team and won our last few games.

    So i think the losing aspect can work in many different ways, and can help show us the more important aspects of sports as a youth. To use every experience to develop ourselves and to always remember that it just a game, the same of which can be applied to many aspects of our lives.

  3. daleymatt says:

    by matt daley
    Great article and I agree 100 percent. Losing can be very beneficial for learning. Although losing sucks and I hate it more than anything else in sports, it is important to experience losing in order to develop other skills. Overcoming a loss and learning from it is one of the most important things you can do in sports. If you don’t learn anything from losing then you will never be successful. You have to learn from your mistakes and how not to repeat them.
    Although coping with a loss is very important in youth development, it does not mean that you should want to lose. I personally will do anything possible in order to win. Losing is the worst feeling in sports and I would much rather win every game. In grade 10 my soccer team went undefeated and won provincials. We were 15-0 going into the finals. Before the game our coach gave us a speech on how being perfect in sports and near impossible and we had an opportunity to do something amazing. We went out and won the game 3-2. Although we never lost a game that year, we still had to overcome adversity throughout the year and we learned a lot from that season. Would the year have ended differently if we had lost a game? Maybe we would not have tried too hard to stay undefeated and ended up losing. Losing does change a lot in the minds of youth.
    In high school I played for a very good basketball team. In grade 9 we lost in the provincial final. In grade 10 we lost once again in the provincial semi-final. In grade 11 we lost in the quarter final. We came so close every single year and each year was crushing to every single guy on team. We had to learn how to cope with losing and move on from it. I admit that it was the worst feeling losing every year but during those 3 years I learned so much about how to behave and how to move on. Finally in grade 12 I brought my team to the provincial final and we won the championship. Learning from those past years and the losses we undertook definitely had an impact on my final year. I knew exactly what I had to do In order to win the game. Losing is very important and even though it sucks and I hate doing it. You can’t go through life without losing. If you don’t experience losing at a young age then when you grow up and don’t get the job you wanted or the raise you wanted then you will not know how to handle the disappointment or how to learn from it and work harder. Losing is important for every youth.

  4. I totally agree! I think it could even be argued that there’s nothing better for a winner than to have them become a loser. It gives them a taste of reality that they can’t always be the best. And if they aren’t the best, are they going to try to become the best? If they say yes to that question then youth will embed within themselves the determination to make themselves better for upcoming challenges. They’ll be better suited to deal with difficult challenges on and off the field, court, ice, etc. It almost seems a shame that some youth in sport will have enough talent and skill to never experience losing in their childhood or adolescence. When they do finally lose, and it will happen, they might not be prepared for the after effects. Like the shock of losing, the potential for depression, or the lack of self-worth.

    Personally, my ball team made it to the atlantic finals in my final year of Midget baseball. We played hard all year, we won some tournaments and we got destroyed in other tournaments. We ended up losing in the atlantic finals and it was devastating; however, it probably would’ve been even worse if we hadn’t lost other tournaments through the year. Those losses helped to keep our team humble and little did I know, I was improving myself through losing.

    – Mackenzie M.

  5. jbuote says:

    Great topic choice Nick,
    I could not agree more that some of our most influential moments where we learn some of our important lessons and values as youth in life is through failing or losing in sport and learning from our mistakes and to grow and develop from those mistakes.
    We are taught from a very young age that one should never be a sore loser when it comes to competing but to more so take a loss in stride and try to better yourself for the next time around.
    I myself had many similar experiences from playing cometetive hockey all my life which taught me many valuable lessons and developmental needs at the time.
    When i was playing in my last year of minor hockey in the midget AAA play off finals we came back from a 0-3 game losing streak in a seven game play off series for first place in the division and to proceed to Atlantics. We ended up winning the next three games after that losing streak and went into the final game 7 with our opposing team. We ended up losing in overtime. I feel that this was one of the most devastating but most educating moment in sport that I have experienced. I was devastated because i felt that we worked so hard and deserved it as a team which is fine. But from losing I learned that you have to take things in stride and better yourself for the next chapter with this sport and take the experiences you’ve went through with this certain team and learn from and cherish them. Great Post
    -Jamie B

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