Why Some Athletes Never Lose

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This piece was originally published on the ZGiRLS website on September 25, 2014.

This year in the U.S. Open, French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was matched up against Belgian player David Goffin in the quarter-final round. In the end, Goffin won the match and advanced to the semi-finals. In his post-match interview, Tsonga said, “you know, the only explanation on what happened today, is that my opponent was better than me on the court”.

For Tsonga, it was more important for him to recognize that his opponent had won more than to conclude he had lost. Although this may not seem like a very big distinction to make, it has a huge impact on how many great athletes avoid ever “losing.”

When an athlete fails to chalk up a “W,” usually one of two things happened. Either,

  1. the athlete gave her very best, but the opponent was outright better (as was the case for Tsonga), or

  2. the athlete didn’t execute the game plan, made mistakes, lost focus, or crumbled under pressure–in short, the athlete failed to perform to his or her potential.

Of course, on paper a loss is a loss. There’s no way around it. But for the mentally strong athlete, a loss on paper doesn’t necessarily have to be a “LOSS.”

In the first instance described above, the athlete brought 100% of her effort, energy, focus, and heart… The fact of the matter is that she was out-performed. Her opponent beat her. If she knows that she gave everything she had, that is ALL she can ever ask of herself. She didn’t lose, she was beaten. In this situation, a great athlete gives herself credit for her own tremendous effort, and commends her opponent’s superior performance.

In the second instance, the athlete outright failed perform to her potential. It happens ALL of the time. After all, it is both challenging and rare for an athlete to be “on” for an entire competition. What separates good athletes from great athletes, however, is the athlete’s frame of mind when she falls short. A loss is not a “loss” when the athlete walks away with a resolve to move on, a positive outlook, and a clear plan on how she can improve moving forward.

In either case, the athlete never really “loses.” She either is out-performed but knows that she gave her very best, or she is out-performed but walks away knowing exactly how she can be better next time.

May not be a “W,” but it is still a win.