Want to be a Champion? Learn to be a Good Loser

Jordan Spieth - from Fox Sports

Photo credit: Fox Sports

All of the golfing world felt for Jordan Spieth as his ball splashed into the creek on the par three 12th at the Masters this weekend. When it happened a second time, I actually had to walk away from my t.v. set. I just couldn’t bear to watch as the kid collapsed in the biggest moment of his life. Anyone who has reached high and fallen hard knows exactly how this feels.

“The true greats don’t let an isolated humiliation define them,” writes Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, “because they know it’s the cost of trying.”

Jordan-Spieth-Michael-Greller Golf Digest

Photo credit: Michael-Greller Golf Digest

Spieth compounded his initial mistake with a second round of poor judgment. This sealed the quadruple bogey which ultimately spelled tied for 2nd in the tournament, which reads L-O-S-E-R to Justin Spieth.

All of the greats before him have had their share of 2nd place finishes. “It’s Spieth’s job to understand just how much heartbreak will be required of him if he wants to be that caliber of player. Losing tough is the cost of that kind of aspiration,” writes Jenkins, “Champions…literally learn to be good losers.”

There is a truth we all need to hear. In order to become great winners, we first have to learn how to be good losers. 

Learn how to lose… in a culture which hates losers. Our win-at-all-costs culture says so. In response, we invent ways to avoid losing. We make excuses, blame things beyond our control, take unfair advantage of situation or opponent or just decide not to keep score. ‘Everyone wins!’ we tell our collection of over-matched peewee players. Not a one of them buys it. Well then, we tell them, let’s be ‘good losers’ and shake hands with the winners.

That’s good manners, but it avoids the issue – our issue – with losing. Of course, we don’t want our players to become accustomed to losing. But losing serves an important purpose. From losing they can learn from their mistakes and use what they discover to become better players. Jordan Spieth’s moment can teach us a lot about this. To glean the lessons for the championship round of the next tournament, he’ll need to address what went wrong and what he can do to prevent repeating it.

That’s a good approach for all of us who seek to guide others through losses and hardship.

  1. Ask: what went wrong? In Speith’s case, poor execution led to a negative outcome. Then poor decision-making compounded the error.
  2. Ask: what contributed to the error? Was it emotion? Indecision? Hurry? Unclear game plan? Not enough practice?
  3. Ask: how can we prevent this? Sport provides a place to:
  • Practice under pressured conditions.
  • Rehearse mental focus.
  • Achieve, recover and sustain a positive mind-set.
  • Train to ingrain movement and trust the training.
  • Train the brain to operate apart from circumstance or conditions.
  • Know the game plan. Nothing negates like indecision.
  • Forgive ourselves before we re-tee.

On any given day, there’s only one name atop the leader board. The rest of us are losers. If we aspire to win, we must risk losing big. A good loser takes what looks like a minefield of misery and turns it into a garden of growth, then feeds his ambition with the hurt of that loss and allows it to shape him into a better competitor.

“This one will hurt,” Spieth said. No one knew it quite like he did. The good news is, to be a the great winner, first we need to be a good loser. One imagines there will be another 12th hole in the championship round at Augusta for young Mr. Spieth where every spectator and announcer will be replaying the events of April 10th, 2016 in their minds. Spieth has a year to learn how not to. That’s what wins championships.jordan-spieth-is-the-truth

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