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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Atlanta tennis, Losing With Style

Losing With Style

Thought my readers would have interest in this article. Fitness with jeff Atlanta
By John F. Murray, Ph.D

Win or lose, Marcos Baghdatis can usually find a smile.
© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Let’s talk about losing. While I don’t wish defeat on anyone, most of us will agree that we lose 50% of the matches we play at any level. If you play a serious match once a week, that’s at least 25 losses a year, and you are in super company. Nikolay Davydenko is behind only Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the world rankings, and he lost 28 matches in 2006! Losing is nothing to be ashamed of, but how well we handle defeat greatly influences our future performances and well being.

People often talk about sportsmanship, class, or grace following defeat. Unfortunately, many tennis players still have not mastered this skill. Rather than crediting the opponent, defeated players often sulk, ignore eye contact, or invent clever excuses. We've also known players who refuse to shake hands, insult their opponents or just pack up and bolt. Who or what created these monsters? The reasons are abundant. Let's examine a few.

Obsession with Outcome – Players sometimes become so obsessed with outcome that the cost of possible loss is magnified tenfold. I’ve seen parents and coaches who yell at their children or students following a difficult loss, and in some rare cases use physical punishment or emotional deprivation. It’s not surprising that there is so much of this thinking going around. We live in a competitive society that glorifies the best. Most of society doesn’t even know the names of players not ranked in the top 5. If you want to be a household name, win Wimbledon, and do it again – or face obscurity!

I have nothing but praise for those who fight hard to win and achieve success, and a huge part of sport psychology is designed to enhance performance. But I’ve even unwittingly found myself at rare times slipping into making comments that border on the “typical obsessed parent” syndrome, and have to remind myself to take extra caution so my comments are not misinterpreted or hurtful.

An obsession with winning seriously detracts from a healthy "present focus" and overlooks the realities of tennis where winning and losing often hinges on just one point. The all-or-nothing mindset can also create catastrophic fear and pressure. Once the match is over, courtesy and regard for the opponent is impossible because the losing player is even more obsessed with outcome and feels like a loser! Self-esteem takes a major hit as the player has defined himself or herself as a failure when they might have just played the match of their life.

Perfectionism – Perfectionism can appear noble on its surface, but crumbles under closer scrutiny. This kind of thinking may also set the stage for negative or disrespectful conduct toward the opponent following a defeat. Perfectionists usually develop their personalities by trying to please others, or live up to some impossible standard. So, after a loss, it's not too far removed to expect sour grapes since these players see their loss as just another personal failure rather than an opponent’s success. By acting ugly or angrily, these players further motivate their opponents for the next match and lose support from others along the way.

Immaturity – Another reason why some players fail to lose with grace is due to faulty expectations based in immaturity. These players unrealistically think that they have complete control over the match. Their self-centeredness keeps them from appreciating the opponent when they lose, and they actually lose more frequently due to their overconfidence! While tennis is an individual sport where self-reliance is key, in its worst form it may also contribute to disrespect for others and self.


Okay, so some players act like poor sports following defeat. Who really cares? Ask yourself how you felt the last time you played against a poor loser? You might have enjoyed exploiting the defective mental equipment in your rival, and you should, but did you want to get together with this person for lunch? Probably not! Does this attitude grow the sport or help you find practice partners? I seriously doubt it.

If you play tennis for the fun, fitness, or competition, you'll hopefully realize that respect for the opponent is a fundamental skill that needs to be taught and constantly encouraged. We could all learn a lesson or two from players like Steffi Graf and the grace she showed throughout her career. Even in loss, she usually kept her cool and credited her opponents.

Tips Following a Loss

1. Immediately and enthusiastically shake your opponent's hand and say something nice.

2. Avoid making excuses for your loss. There are many reasons for outcome, but direct your focus on your opponent's strengths that day as well as how you can do better next time.

3. Keep your sense of humor. This is only a sport and there are many tomorrows.

4. Whatever you have learned from this loss, work on it in practice.

Losing a match is a universal experience, and nothing to be ashamed of. You’ve learned something because, by definition, you were pushed to the limit of your skills. Welcome this lesson and reinterpret it as an opportunity for growth. Now go out there and win! After all, how could you have possibly lost to that absolute nobody? Oops … there I go … I just slipped over the line again!

For more from Dr. John click here.


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