You’re ready to step into the ring. You’ve trained hard for a number of weeks. You’ve done everything right, prepared well and it’s fight time. You’re finally facing your opponent in the ring, the bell goes and you’re off. You fight hard, emptying the tank in every round. When the fight ends, they announce the winner but it’s not your name that’s called out – it’s your opponent.
You’ve lost! Suddenly, your stomach starts to drop, and that sinking feeling of defeat is settling in. What are you thinking now? How do you feel, and more importantly, how do you deal with it?
Athletes in general are obviously very competitive people, and fighters are no exception – we like to win. But as is the case in many sports, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll win or you’ll lose and nobody likes to experience the latter.
So, learning how to deal with losing is important, not only for yourself, but for your progress.
The feeling of losing
I’ve experienced that losing feeling in my fight career a few times. It’s not nice. That ‘losing’ feeling was a lot worse when I first started fighting though.
Growing up, I was always a perfectionist and an overachiever – failing was never an option. Things didn’t change when I began Muay Thai. When I started fighting, I was adamant that I would win every fight, most of them by knockout. I wanted a perfect record. When my third fight rolled around, I experience my first loss even though I fought my heart out.
Needless to say, I was devastated! I cried after the fight. I cried all the way home that night (while eating pies and chocolate). I cried the next day and I’m pretty sure I was depressed for three weeks after that. For a long while, that was the way I dealt with losing – by crying for days, eating myself into a binge frenzie and slothing around for a few weeks.
Thankfully, I don’t deal with losing the same way anymore. So what happened?
Understanding pressure and changing your focus
Eventually, I came to realise just how much pressure I was putting on myself to win. My perfectionism was actually prohibiting my performance and made losing a worse experience than what it should have been.
You see, when you put pressure on yourself that pressure can make you seize up, panic and limit your ability to think clearly in high stress situations. What’s worse, if you don’t accept that failure is a possibility, and you do fail, it will feel like your world is ending.
So, how can you change this? Simple – you change your focus. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s say that instead of focusing so much on winning your fight, you focus on becoming an absolute animal and tearing sh** up in the ring instead.
Now, let’s also say that you practice applying this mindset in training. Every time you step into the gym, you turn your beast mode on and completely obliterate every drill, sparring session and fitness circuit. What you’re actually doing is reprogramming your mindset, and eventually that’s all your focus is going to be. Then when you step into the ring, nothing but your inner animal will come out.
What’s more, you alleviate the pressure. When you feel less pressure, you feel more settled. When you feel settled, you think clearly. When you think clearly, the technique flows, and when you unleash, there’s no stopping you. I know this works because it’s something I’ve tried myself and I can say with certainty that it works.
Changing the way you see losing
So let’s assume you develop a ‘train to kill’ mindset but you still lose. What then? This is the really challenging part. How do you bounce back from something that you hate experiencing? Well, it all depends on your mindset.
Some people see losing as the worst thing in the world – others see it as an opportunity. Failure is the moment where we learn things the hard way and sometimes you need to learn things the hard way in order for it to sink in.
I’m not saying roll over and accept defeat all the time. I’m saying, if failure comes, then don’t let it eat you inside. Use it as a tool to get better, because you can and you will get better.
Looking at the loss objectively
When I experienced a loss not so long ago, I didn’t want to look at the fight footage because I was forced to relive that experience. However, my trainer said to me, “Go over the footage, look at it objectively and take notes. It would be good for you to see it and analyse it that way.”
So that’s what I did. I watched the footage, ugly as it was (perfectionist nature rearing it’s head). What I noticed is that my feelings of reliving that moment subsided. I was able to analyse the things I did well, and the things I didn’t do well. I was able to take notes and highlight what I needed to work on. It was another way for me to learn from what happened.
Sometimes you need to take a step back from a situation, and look at it from a bird’s-eye view. Doing that allows you to look at the situation constructively so you can use that knowledge for your improvement.
This is gonna sound like a load of cheese, but having a positive mindset is a huge help when getting over a loss. I’ve noticed that some of the best sportspeople have an incredibly positive mindset, and are capable of using loss or adversity as a learning tool.
In the 2012 documentary Venus and Serena, Venus Williams says that she used to get really depressed after experiencing a loss but now, she makes sure she gets over it within the hour of losing a match. Really, it all depends on whether you choose to let defeat get the better of you, or whether you inject a positive mindset to make the most of the situation.
Here’s what I like to remind myself when the decision doesn’t go my way:
- Did I give it everything? If so, I should be proud that I left nothing in the tank.
- Losing is an opportunity to learn. Sometimes you’ve gotta learn things the hard way in order for it to sink in.
- Some of the most successful people in the world have lost at one point or another – it happens to pretty much everyone.
- You may not have won this one, but there’s always another fight.
Getting back on the horse
For some people, losing lights a fire under their a**. They get back into training the next day, ready to learn from their mistake. For others, it creates depression, causing that person to want to cocoon themselves in five blankets and watch Netflix all day and night with a tub of ice cream by their side.
For the ‘cocoon’ type, it’s important to get back on the horse as soon as possible. You may feel bad, you may have no motivation, but getting back in the gym and doing something is far better than working yourself into a state that’s hard to return from and undoing all your hard work.
Consistency is important, so you don’t want to prohibit any progress to your training and development. If a short break is required after your fight because you’ve exhausted yourself beyond your limits, or your injured and you need time to heal, then that is just cause for time off. But if you’re away from training for weeks, adopting poor habits along the way, it would be wise to ask yourself whether you really want to be a fighter.
Losing is never an easy thing, but with the right frame of mind and mental work dealing with a loss can be manageable. However, don’t think that changing the way you feel about losing happens over night. It takes time to train yourself, and your brain, to look at things constructively.
Just take this as a starting point to developing your own positive approach to overcoming loss, and if you have any ideas to share feel free to do so in the comment box below.