Don't Lose Faith When You Lose

By Karch Kiraly | May 02, 2018, 7:47 p.m. (ET)

Karch Kiraly with USWNT

Originally published in the Winter 2015-16 edition of VolleyballUSA

Our U.S. Women's National Team doesn't lose very often, but we do have a lot of practice losing. In fact, our players often experience the sting of defeat on a daily basis during our training blocks. That’s by design. We put our players in a position to lose – or win – whenever they walk into the practice gym.

In the collective view of the U.S. coaching staff, repeated competition among teammates helps players become more battle hardened. They have to learn how to lose, and then they have to learn how to quickly bounce back with great resiliency to bring their best to the next game or drill.

How competitive does it get? Let me share a story that has been told by libero Kayla Banwarth. A day before we left for Italy to compete in the 2014 FIVB World Championship, Kayla remembers losing five straight games in a competition we were having that day. For the sixth game, we let her rest, and the team that she had been playing with won. It bothered her so much that it brought her to tears. But then in Italy, Kayla played a huge role in helping our team win the first gold medal at a triple crown tournament (Olympics, FIVB World Cup, FIVB World Championship) in the history of the U.S. Women’s program. Clearly, the adversity she faced in her home gym was a good thing.

Related: Mental Toughness After Losing | The Mental Approach to Competition

Like I mentioned, tough losses are part of competing. But our goal on the national team is to handle them like a championship team. For instance, in 2015, after a World Grand Prix loss to China, we rebounded four days later with a five-day run of consecutive victories over five of the world’s top teams: Japan, Italy, Russia, Brazil and China. That earned us the World Grand Prix gold medal. And after two losses at the World Cup, we bounced back with big wins, first over China, the eventual World Cup champion, and then over a talented Japan team playing in front of its home fans.

One of our strategies for dealing with losses is to confront them by getting together as a team and talking about them. We don’t shove the pain under the rug.

These meetings aren’t forums for the coaches to give lengthy lectures. They’re designed for all of us to acknowledge a loss, exchange information and remind ourselves that being disappointed in defeat is OK. In fact, it’s good that it hurts because it affirms that we hold ourselves to a high standard and care deeply about maintaining that standard.

For our team, another key part of dealing with a loss is recommitting in both words and deeds to the things we do well, including the little stuff: like forming good platforms and passing the ball a little bit off the net so our setter can run our fast offense.

It’s important for all teams to remember their strengths and to stick with those strengths. One setback on the court or even a few setbacks shouldn’t lead a team into a state of panic. Never make the mistake of thinking that drastic changes are needed after a loss, or that something extra special needs to happen in the next match.

In the end, rebounding from defeat is mostly about trusting your body of work and getting back to what you have been practicing for a long time. Keep the faith. It’s worked before. It will work again.