More than a Game - September 28, 2021

tennis-lifeThe western culture is spellbound by the concept of winning. Winning is very seductive and often creates and encourages vice. It also often takes the joy out of competing and even creates false positives. Losing, on the other hand, must not be feared or even dreaded but be seen as it is: routine, natural, and important to your growth. It must not to be feared like cancer but reflected on. When athletes contemplate a loss, instead of grieve a loss, much can be learned.

Here is a simple fact about losing. Half of all competitors lose. In all the tennis matches that will be played today, all over the world, half the people will lose. That is a lot of losers; suffice to say losing is unavoidable. There may be some rare person who has never lost but I am not aware of who it is. We all know this fact but often choose to ignore it.

The better we get the less we lose and therefore the less we expect to lose; in fact the less we like losing and the more it hurts when we do. When we first started playing tennis, we probably lost far more than half the time. We learned how to lose. Once we get “good” and lose less frequently, this gift of losing is often forfeited, along with the art of knowing how to lose.

Taking a closer look at losing, we find many players view it as a stigma with a dishonorable or disgraceful quality attached to it. This mind set is hard to turn around but critical to understanding how to define success. Unless we change this outlook, success will never be properly and truthfully understood. The beginning of this is learning how to lose.

When we go back to the grassroots of competition, we find it critical to recognize that losing is central to competition. Therefore, all players must learn how to lose. The next principle we find is that beginners often expect to lose because they are beginners and know they are not that good. This enables them to deal with it much better. The net effect is that losing does not affect their self-esteem as much because they know they are not that good since they just started playing. This allows for losing.

Contrast this with the advanced player’s mentality. When we start playing more and more tennis the typical result is that we are more and more victorious. This leads to getting more compliments on our game. Ultimately, we start to like the praise and believe it. We see the results of our hard work, in matches won and beating those we lost to before. The outcome is we grow to like the “feel” of winning more and more.

Losing now as an advanced player does the opposite. We don’t get compliments rather we get people questioning our ability and future. Losing moves us backwards in the “pecking order.” We now see losing as a type of tennis cancer, to be avoided at all costs. We see how much time we have committed to the game, and we can no longer fall back on the soothing knowledge that we are just learning the game. People expect us to win. Losing to a “lesser” opponent really hurts now.

The bottom line to all of this is: LOSING IS BAD! Herein lies the problem. We now love to win and hate to lose!
We hate to lose more than we love to win. Since many advanced players hate losing they seldom, if ever, use it as an opportunity to learn; yet losing provides a tremendous opportunity for growth. If nothing else it is a reality check to prove we are not that good. 

We must change this attitude and go back to where we started when we first began playing. If we don’t, the fun of competing will soon go out of the game. Tennis will simply be seen as an evaluation of you as a player before the whole world.

Competition is an assessment in some regards, but not for others, for you. It is a chance for YOU to see what needs more work, not a chance for OTHERS to critique you and give you their opinions.

Opinions are like parents, everyone has them. The problem is that losing makes us a little more vulnerable to criticism. This will strengthen the critic’s position and weaken yours. It will make them look like more of an expert and you less of one since you just lost.

The other problem with these “backseat drivers” is the source of their criticism. Much of the criticism we receive after a loss comes from spectators. From their vantage point your problems were simple and easy to spot. The reality is the solutions are not as simple as they make them out to be; in fact watching and playing are opposites. What looks obvious and easy in the stands is much harder to execute on the court.

Many of these defamers are invalid because their knowledge of your game is limited. They are not able to accurately assess your performance because they are not aware of your full ability or capability. They mean well, but that does not make them experts on your performance. The most common list of critics includes parents, siblings, peers, and even other coaches.

The main reason they are often invalid appraisers of your performance is that they are most often unable to assess your performance on any other standard outside of winning. They also have an opinion about what you did wrong based on their own biased beliefs. These critics usually use winning to assess your performance, yet they don’t understand all that goes into winning.