You want to win? Then learn how to lose

Well what a Grand Slam that was! 254 players lost and only 2 remained undefeated. It was an astonishing display of skill, passion, focus and brutal physicality. Serena and Stan earned the titles, quite simply by playing the best tennis over the two weeks, but there has and will be plenty of coverage of the Champs so lets look at the rest of the field.

254 players lost. 254 players had to discuss what went wrong with their team. 254 players go to the next event possibly lower in confidence and demoralised. Some will have done well… Lucie had the tournament of her life but still had to endure a tough loss at the end of it. Others will be disappointed not to achieve what they set out to, but ALL 254 world class players have lost. And yes, the chances are they will lose next week, and the week after and at Wimbledon because only 1 man and 1 woman won’t lose. This fact is extremely important, but is so often over looked.

So with all the focus on young kids learning how to win, is it as important to teach them how to lose as well?

I know that I learn far more about my game and myself after a loss than I do after a win.   The thought process after a win can so easily be ‘that was good, I served well and I was aggressive, right, who’s next?’ Whereas after a loss you think it through, ‘what did I do well that I could have done more of? What wasn’t effective? Where did my errors come from? What did she do better than me?’

But is this what we are teaching to juniors? Do they understand that losing is a crucial part of the game? Nick Bollettieri once said to me with a huge wise smile on his face, “You have got to learn how to lose BEFORE you can learn how to win Baby!” Unsurprisingly this has turned out to be completely accurate and one of the most important pieces of advice I have ever received.

With so much emphasis on the great players, the undefeated runs, the champions and the winning… are we ignoring all the matches they have lost since they started playing? Forgetting all of the lessons they learned from losing that they would not have learned from winning? I am not saying that losing is better for development than winning, I just think that you need to learn how to do both if you want to be any good.

Losing is a crucial part of the journey and it is a necessity for success. You wouldn’t be able to find one player who hasn’t lost a match they felt they should have won… So why are kids, parents and coaches so scared of losing? Is it really that bad? I could go and lose to a beginner, but does that change the player I am or the potential I have? Surely I am still the same player with a match next week to prepare for?

This was one of the most baffling aspects of coaching for me. I never understood it and I don’t think I will. I am not saying you need to enjoy losing… of course not.   I personally hate losing, but I don’t avoid it, I don’t make excuses, I deal with it and I learn from it.

The only explanation I can come up with is that it is a phobia not a fear. They are irrational thoughts and feelings that make no sense building up in the mind, and in some cases it really is extreme. I have seen players have panic attacks on court, cry when they have lost the first set, and get so scared and tight that they can barely swing the racket at all. And then they lose… and the world doesn’t end, they don’t get shot and they go on to the next week to try again. The fear is far worse than the reality. Don’t make losing in to something it is not, it will never be fun but it will keep happening. Embrace it and deal with it, whether you are a coach, parent or player… otherwise you don’t stand a chance.

3 thoughts on “You want to win? Then learn how to lose

  1. This is a great post, Naomi. This is good that you are mentioning about learning how to lose so that people can improve themselves. This is one lesson that should be taught in general life more often, especially today. Keep up the good work on the blog!


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