The best learning opportunity, losing, it can be a winner

I had to stop playing tennis for a while because I was just too competitive. I was off the Richter scale. They say Aussies and South Africans are competitive. I am worse, or better however you describe it: I am very competitive. But I don’t mean to boast. I just am. Can’t help it. Well, actually now, I can. I learned to.  I read a great article in the Sunday Times recently on John McEnroe on losing. His recurring nightmare, of losing against Ivan Lendl in 1984 after being two sets up. To deal with this obsession, you have to admit it and embrace it. A bit like an alcoholic admits they are an alcoholic. I saw this as a bad thing. I did too. I ended up unable to win as much as I should, due to rage, and emotion. Now I play tennis, I do business, with control. I was reminded of this reading a fantastic article the other day by Matthey Syed, “Nadal A Master of Tennis And Himself” here. I will write more about control another time, but here I want to focus on one key aspect of sporting and business motivation which is the best learning opportunity, losing. Approached intelligently, it is a winning opportunity.

What is Winning and Losing

It may seem obvious to state that winning is when you gain a result or victory in a competition. And losing is the opposite. But I think competitive minded, winning minded people are hard on themselves. They do not hide from failure. But there is an alternative. That is what helped me out of the slough of despond! And the misery I used to inflict upon myself and others. I am still desperate in defeat, and awful with a partner when we lose. But I now have some answers beyond, just ranting and raving or worse, looking for excuses.

What to do when you Lose

First, own it. It sounds to a Brit, a little American, but it is important. It is your fault. Or perhaps, to be a little less dramatic, you will claim credit when you win, so just be part of whatever result happens now. Stick with it. What does this mean? Well what struck me with one of my heroes in tennis Roger Federer, even in defeat was how he was always analysing! Once in a Davis Cup match defeat he gave a detailed description of his performance for the Friday, then went on to rectify this with a stunning win on the Saturday! In other words:

  • You can only begin to improve with a cool head
  • Look at what is or what happened
  • Dissect the issues
  • Replay and forward play situations again
  • Look for help if needs be:
    • videos
    • mentors
    • experts
    • online
    • write down
    • friends and family
  • Write a strategy for situations i.e. what to do in given situations
  • Practice effective decision making – see this video by Nick Hixson on decisions
  • Have a note-book such as OneNote or a notepad to plan what to do


There is nothing like losing to motivate you to win! If I ever need extra motivation, I just picture a competitor, team, or people in a situation where we have lost and it inspires me. Often, losing occurs through failure to plan or concentrate. It isn’t just about effort though, it is also about learning from experience and other peoples’ failures. Here is the fascinating Museum of Failure. I am determined to win, don’t get me wrong! But I regard losing as my fault. Something I can do something about. It’s the motivation to then succeed in future. Forget the past. As my dad said, “there is no such place as “if only” or “if” “. Except, in terms of how to improve, I use this acronym:
F – Failure
A – Analyse
D – Decisions
E – Embrace
S – Strategy
It reminds me to assess what happened not as “bad luck” outside of my control. But to understand,

  • forensically, but simply what happened
  • did I follow my planned strategy? If not sort it for next time.
  • make some decisions on what to do to rectify and improve, if at all
  • feel comfortable with it, this can take time, we all get upset!
  • get a strategy in place for the decisions and all the ideas as appropriate

Just to be clear, this is for anything in life, work and home or sport. Winning and losing happens all the time.

Don’t be scared of Failure…or Success!

You will have heard this before, don’t fear failure. Strangely enough, I think this comes partly from the fact that when human beings are aroused, or put in dangerous situations, our adrenaline flows. This quite naturally makes us feel nervous, sometime shaky. When I am playing sport, I welcome it, in matchplay, and bounce up and down on my feet to spread it into my body. It helps us to be alert. But we do not want to be paralysed by nerves or to relaxed! Ideally, then we have a strategy and are focused. We can just as easily become scared of winning too frequently. This needs good concentration, systems, professionalism and intelligence. But frankly it is inevitable loss will come from time to time and one key aspect of sporting and business motivation which is the best learning opportunity, losing. Approached intelligently, it is a winning opportunity.

Peter Eales BA Hons Chartered Marketer FCIM FIDM
Founder Director Dorset Business Angels
MD o i solutions limited

Posted in Blog.