Losing comes in many forms. On the simplest level, losing can be thought of not being victorious in meaningful competition. Going one step further, it can mean losing an actual opportunity or chance.
Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the ‘art’ of having a bad game because there’s a myriad of ways to process and grow from difficult situations. The reality is losing is inevitable and yet, people are reluctant to experience it. Serious players, coaches, professionals in any industry must deal with losing.
What I find troublesome is not losing itself, but the reactions of people who experience loss. Adversity and resiliency are important elements of life. However, after spending the bulk of my life immersed in American soccer circles another element has creeped in that’s more of an indictment of where society places itself: entitlement.
Society in a nutshell:
You see, people assume others are looking out for your self-interests. In reality, people look out for their own self-interests.
The chances are great that you have dealt with losing on a personal and professional level. These things happen — the world is indiscriminate.
In terms of playing, good players have bad games; great players learn from those bad games. And bad players, well…they let losses and obstacles bulldoze them over and over again. They bury themselves and don’t understand the only way to improve is to grow up, which is painful.
All worthwhile progress requires sweat equity and a pain tax. If this were not true, everyone would snap their fingers and be where they wanted to be — undeservedly so.
Weakness and a lack of intestinal fortitude is pervasive these days and I look across the landscape of the American game and I see a generation of players that need to toughen up (not in the beat-your-chest-show-em-who’s-boss way, either), but I find they aren’t allowed to toughen up.
Too often, people shelter themselves or their players from adversity. They remove accountability from the equation and thrust blame on others. This is when things like playing time, roster spots, marked progress and improvement become talking points. Is the game littered with bad decision makers? Yes. Is the system seriously flawed? Hell yes it is.
Knowing that, why would you ANYONE leave their own progress up to chance? Why would an individual put total faith into the hands of a club, coach, or club coach whose main source of income is based-on customers (parents) paying the club fees. And let’s not get distracted — this isn’t about pay-to-play, which is not going anywhere.
This is about accountability. Look, believe it or not, players need to be in control of their own development on their own time more than they think. The players who go far are the ones who train, study, and apply themselves to their craft when it’s uncomfortable. Rain, snow, wind, mud — these elemental things do not concern the driven player.
So, what’s the lesson in losing?
People perceive time in funny ways. Some choose (wisely) to live in the present. Others resign themselves to reliving the past. Then there are those who live in the murky world called ‘the future’ — or as we more commonly call it: tomorrow.
The thing about people and more to the point, soccer players (and athletes in general), is it’s easy to slip into the trap of thinking of themselves as the ‘finished product’. Such a misguided and warped perception of one’s level is dangerous for a multitude of reasons.
Some think they’ve arrived. Trust me, if you’re reading this, you haven’t arrived. Furthermore, and this might sting a bit — it’s very likely that you’ll never arrive because if you truly dedicate yourself to something…that Process is on-going. Another trap is placing self-worth in trinkets that define the trophy generation. People who do this have a hard time realize the game isn’t just about medals, awards, and superficial types of recognition.
Sure, those are important in the right context. Accountability is more about achievements over a span of time and the acquisition of skills that make navigating the game easier as a player improves.
It’s easy to be lulled into a cyclical mindset — more a pattern of habit and behavior — where a person believes they are done growing. Seriously driven players are never truly done learning, evolving, and yes, losing. Even long after you hang up the boots — when the game is done with you — you’ll still grow; maybe not as a player, but rather as a person.
To that end, you are never done losing.
You will lose when you think you’re winning. You will lose off the field. Losing is an opportunity for growth, self-evaluation, and for true learning. Losing is part of life. It’s also something that can trap people in the past and can shackle them when others make progress.
To evolve, you must learn to lose.
Good players are in a constant state of change and evolution. Objectively bad players tend to remain the same. They make the same mistakes, assume the same things, don the same poor attitudes, weak mentalities, poor character choices, and work in the same things that don’t improve them as competitive players.
Yes, I’m talking about the ones that hear but rarely listen. Perhaps the procrastinating player is a better example. The “I’ll do it tomorrow”-types have literally accumulated so many “I’ll do it tomorrow”-like empty promises to themselves they begin to stack them up.
How many tomorrow’s have become yesterday’s?
How long are you willing to let that happen?
You don’t get those days back.
One of the most important skills is surrounding yourself with people who want you to succeed. For players, this means finding the right coaches/trainers and teammates. For coaches, it means engaging and learning from people with more experience, quality immersive hours in study or on the field, and more robust networks than you have. It means recognizing there are people who want to see you fail and will do as much as possible to see that happen. As a player or coach, you simply can’t let negative life forces hold you back and hole you up.
We exist in times defined by a collective lack of accountability; where people blame others for all things negative. To a degree, that’s the natural exercise and default response; however, it cannot be the exercise or default course of action and train of thought when things go awry.
Being accountable is different for everyone. Some simply don’t have it within themselves to confront the ghost within and sort themselves out. Others are professional deflectors — blaming everything but the true reasons and causes for their perceived or actual lack of progress.
In cycles of non-progress, people will see your progress as their failure.
The reality is soccer is a simple game made complex by the people who play it. Or, in blunt terms, made complicated by one’s failure to do the little things well.
When things go haywire it’s often helpful to go back to basics. It’s often a matter of defining whatever it is where the breakdown occurs. Take training as an example. I’ve yet to meet someone who has defined what training means to them or rather to put an actual definition on something that is the bulk of their experience in the game (you have more training opportunities than actual games in your life).
Train (verb): To exercise according to a set schedule, with the dual objectives of becoming more proficient at that sport, and learning to hate the sport you are working so hard to become good at.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was to adopt a “better than zero” mindset. This is something you need to do on your own time, which adds another challenge.
Here’s an example: a striker is struggling with playing with their back to goal. Their first touch pops up to their throat and their shots are off-balance and well-wide of the mark. Is it an easy fix? For some, maybe; but for others it’s more of a puzzle.
The easy way out is to get frustrated ensuring the whole process falls apart.
This is where the weak-minded and unmotivated crumble.
They are unwilling to get hundreds of repetitions posting up and receiving the ball in various ways. They see a mountain where there is only a series of tiny molehills. They don’t want to work on the little things:
- initiating contact with the defender,
- movement to get open,
- checking their shoulders to know if they can pivot and turn to face them up or have to outplay them to get a shot off,
- focusing on proper technique when receiving the ball.
Repeating it again and again is an inconvenience. Really? I’d think losing again and again would be…
Put the pieces together, count your reps, and remember: what gets measured gets managed.
Invest and trust the process. Understand you will lose along the way.
Focus on progress…then focus on perfection.