The Agony of Defeat

March 06, 2018, 11:55 a.m. (ET)

Written by Megan Bomba, USA Field Hockey Content Development Intern & Messiah College Student-Athlete

“There are more important things in life than winning or losing a game,” said soccer star Lionel Messi.

Well, no offense to Messi, that is easier said than done.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform and win the games in which we compete. There can be a lot riding on each game: scholarships, records, awards, play-off potential and most importantly, our pride. This changes the sport we love to play into a job, and our job is to win. But isn’t the whole point of playing sports to have fun?

My college team experienced a major defeat this year, coming in the Division III National Championship game. We came into the tournament undefeated and had hopes of winning our program’s second national title. After a hard-fought win in the semifinals, we lost in the final.

Of course, we felt our lowest after the game. It was hard to watch the other team celebrate and walk away with smiles while we had tear-stained faces. We questioned all of our preparation, every play during the game, all in vain to try to find where we had gone wrong. The truth of the matter was that we lost, and there was nothing we could do to change it.

Not everyone can go undefeated or end the season with a win. Only one team can go home winners. That does not mean that only one team can go home happy.

When you lose a game, what is the worst that can happen? If you honestly think about it, following a tough game, you are greeted with hugs and support from teammates and loved ones. You might have a tailgate afterward, snacks for the bus or be able to go out with family and friends. What is so bad about that?

Losing teaches us how to be better or where our weaknesses lie, which is valuable information for training. We can head to practice the next day or next season knowing what needs work. Losing also teaches us to be humble athletes. It reminds us that we are not perfect and that we will make mistakes, but those mistakes do not define us. Our effort to correct them does.

To reference another famous sports quote, Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.”

If we change our mindset going into a game, we can change how we react to the result. If we have the mindset of playing free without worry of the score, we can leave the field knowing that we played to our best.

No one wants to lose, but it is bound to happen at some point in our playing careers. It is our choice whether we meet it with disappointment and anger or use it as a growing experience.