The Value of Losing
Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers who won the Super Bowl and became champions of the world for a record tying 5th time.
It must have been great to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as the hapless Seahawks looked on in defeat. What a bunch of losers falling flat on their face like a baby first learning to walk. Of course, they did finish 2nd best - ahead of the other 30 losing teams that didn't even win their conference. While some may consider the NFC champs to have had a successful season, Tom Seaver once wrote: "there are only two places an athlete can finish - first place and no place". How about Vince Lombardi who said: "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser". Even in the world sports, where it really is about winning, or in life, this can't be the way we think. As a looking glass into real life, when 31 NFL teams, representing the best players in the world, are all looking up at the Champion Steelers, we all need to find and understand the value of losing.
While being a loser requires that you lose, the corollary that losing makes you a loser is certainly false. Vince Lombardi is known as one of the greatest and most intense coaches in history. Of course, most of us know Coach Lombardi's famous quote: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing". While he always put that kind of emphasis on winning, most of us don't know that he also said: "If you can't accept losing, you can't win." While we all like to win much more than we like to lose, in order to play and be a part of something greater, we have to be willing to take the risk that we might lose. It has to be accepted that losing is a natural a part of participating and of winning.
Why It’s Okay to Lose
While not necessarily intuitive, there are many reasons why we can feel good about losing and I want to focus on two of these: the first and most obvious reason to lose is because it will help us to win; the second reason to lose is that it helps us to win in life.
Losing creates opportunity. Every loss has more lessons about what a team or individual can do to improve than any win. Losing also provides more motivation. Winning tends to cause people to overlook errors in judgment and fundaments that only losing can reveal. It's through the process that individuals and teams can discern areas to work on through practice to improve. Maybe even more important is that losing forces people to recognize that they want to win. The motivation provided by losing is a key to helping teams work harder in practice to improve and to play harder to win. Coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success (January, 2006) emphasizes that success isn't winning or losing, but the self satisfaction derived from doing your best to be the best of which you are capable. Both winning and losing should inspire an individual to improve and to maximize their potential. By using losses in this way, we can motivate ourselves and others.
We can also use these lessons to improve other aspects of our life because losing is as much a part of every day life as it is a natural experience of playing sports. As parents, we make such an effort to help our kids feel better and to not let them experience failures. Ultimately, by not acknowledging their shortcomings, mistakes and losses, we don't allow them to live up to their potential. Failing is natural and it creates motivation. Without failing, kids may not see the need to work harder to improve. Telling kids that they have a "good eye" when the pitch is over the backstop, or saying "nice try" after a mistake may seem encouraging. However, we should also understand that it can be fine to let them know that a mistake has been made. When an error is made we can acknowledge it and then work to learn from the mistake and ultimately to improve.
By continuing to tell kids that they're always doing great sends a message that they don't need to work as hard. Kids are smart and they realize when they're good or bad. Sometimes they need to be protected but other times we need to also be honest if we want them to succeed in life. The idea that a person just needs to do their best isn't always true - sometimes they need to do even better. I heard of story of an employee who responded to a new work assignment for a project that needed to be done by a deadline with: "I'll do my best". Well, in this case, it just needed to get done and failing to finish it, even if that was their "best effort", was simply unacceptable. Sometimes, a person's best is not enough and you need to "get it done". This is one of the lessons that you can learn by losing because it is part of life.
Bud Wilkerson, the famous Okalahoma Sooners football coach who led his team on a 47 game winning streak, noted that the only way you could meet somebody that never lost meant that you had to find somebody that never played the game. While nobody wants to lose, we can use losing to motivate and improve. We can also extrapolate the lessons of losing to the greater life lessons so that we can all become the best of which we are capable. Losing is part of everything we do and has tremendous value. Mistakes are a natural part of participating so we shouldn't be afraid of acknowledging our errors and using them to improve. Our goal, in youth sports and in life, has to be to see the value of losing and use it to become better athletes, parents and people.