How To Recover From a Crushing Defeat

One thing that everyone has to deal with is change. Change constantly occurs, whether we like it or not. All we can do is try to direct change in a way that’s favorable. Yet, even this is not always possible. So, no matter how change manifests, it’s essential that we respond to it in a way that’s constructive. This means learning from our mistakes and being open to opportunities. It’s often instructive to look at professional athletes as an example of people who deal with change on a daily basis.

“Stubbornness usually is considered a negative; but I think that trait has been a positive for me.”- Cal Ripken, Jr.

While change affects everyone, sports can be seen as a kind of microcosm or laboratory where this principle is magnified. A single game or contest produces an immense amount of change from one moment to the next. Whether you’re looking at football, basketball, baseball, golf, MMA or other combat sports or any other sport, the tide can turn at any moment. For this reason we might even say that one of the things that differentiates great athletes from their lesser competition is the ability to deal with change.  Jordan Spieth learned learned about change at the 2016 Masters Tournament!

Jordan Spieth had one of  the worst collapses in golf history, and his caddie Michael Greller was beautifully philosophical about things.

“The 2016 Masters stung … But don’t feel sorry or sad for us. We won’t get stuck in this moment, nor should you. We will work harder, fight harder and be better for it. We will bounce back as we have done many times. A wise coach reminded me recently, winning shows your character and losing shows ALL your character. Jordan continues to model grace and humility through wins and especially losses. The student continues to teach the teacher, and now millions others, just like he did at Erin Hills. Jordan Spieth is the same genuine, grounded and humble person he was five years ago, in victory or defeat.”

Thinking Like an Athlete

There are definite advantages to thinking like an athlete, even if you have no particular interest in sports. The idea of sports being a metaphor for life is hardly new. Numerous great athletes, coaches and analysts have produced countless inspirational quotes illustrating this idea. There’s a good reason why sports is so often used to point out crucial life lessons.

You don’t have to be an athlete to think like one. Doing so can help you look at life differently and make you aware of the many ways that dealing with change impacts your results. Let’s look at some of the most valuable lessons we can learn from athletes about dealing with change.

Believe in Yourself

If there’s one mental quality that athletes need above all others it’s self-confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself, you have little chance of making that goal, basket, hole or touchdown. It’s worth noting that this strong sense of self-confidence starts long before an athlete becomes a star. Proof of this lies in the fact that many of the world’s greatest athletes come from very poor backgrounds. This means they had to create their own opportunities and overcome many obstacles to reach their potential.

“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

It’s necessary to believe in yourself no matter what you want to achieve in life. This acts as a catalyst for change. Without belief in yourself, you will never be able to overcome adversity. And everyone experiences adversity to one degree or another. A great athlete -or someone who achieves great things in any field- is someone who must not only be ready to seize opportunities when they arise, but create their own opportunities. When it comes to change, you must learn how to both respond optimally to change and become an agent of change.

Work Smart and the 80/20 Rule

The saying “work smarter, not harder” is another principle that’s true in sports as well as everywhere else in life. Of course, the best athletes do work hard. Even the most talented athletes will squander their potential if they don’t constantly train hard. Yet the best of the best also understand the 80/20 rule, which states that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your actions.

Hard work alone can only get you so far. Beyond this, you have to be constantly paying attention to what works and what doesn’t work. In sports, this means paying attention to your diet, practice routine and techniques. In business, it means tracking your results and being open to trying new strategies. Because of rapidly developing technologies and the growth of the global economy, change is now impacting business faster than ever.

In sports, business and everywhere else in life, you must be aware of how change is impacting you. If you keep doing the same things over and over, you will be a victim of change. That’s because if you’re not making progress, you inevitably lose ground as your competition passes you by. On the other hand, by paying attention to the 80/20 rule, you are constantly searching for ways to improve. Change then starts to work in your favor.

Have Realistic Goals

Goals are another important tool if you want to make the most of change. Athletes are, by definition, goal-oriented. This is true in training as well as during events. Even if you’re not an athlete, if you exercise, you understand the power of goals. You may want to run a certain number of miles, lift a certain amount of weight or lose a certain number of pounds.

“To uncover your true potential you must first find your own limits and then you have to have the courage to blow past them.” – Picabo Street

Athletes take this a step further and strive to make improvements in key areas, whether it’s their golf swing or the ability to shoot baskets. No matter what you’re trying to achieve, it’s essential to set goals. Without goals, you lack a plan. Without a plan, how do you know where the finish line is? Your goals should be lofty enough to inspire you but realistic enough that you can actually achieve them. Setting goals automatically starts your mind seeking ways to accomplish these goals.

Look Beyond Failure

Everyone experiences a certain amount of failure. In fact, it’s a proven truth that the only way to avoid failure is to never try anything new. Those who achieve noteworthy things in any field have a few things in common. One is that they aren’t afraid to fail. Another is that they learn from their failures.  In Jordan Spieth’s example, consider his story.  This was not, by any means, his best day. Yet, as Joe Parent, the author of Zen Golf, reveals, Speith took this experience not as a defeat but as a learning experience. This is an attitude that can and should be applied to every area of life.

So never be afraid to fail. At the same time, you want to avoid failing in the same way over and over again. Learn to detach emotionally from mistakes and look at the situation objectively. Then you can learn the lesson, move on and know that you won’t repeat the same mistake in the future.

Have a Role Model

Athletes almost always have role models. Today’s great sports figures looked up to the stars of previous eras. A role model teaches you many valuable lessons, whether you actually meet this person or not. An athlete may learn specific techniques from a role model. Just as importantly, he or she may learn psychological principles such as maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity.

There are more ways than ever to benefit from role models. If the person you admire is active in the world today, you can follow their social media posts, blog, podcasts or however else they may communicate. Even if it’s someone from the past, it’s worth studying as much as you can about people who inspire you.

When you take a close look at your role models, you’ll often discover that their victories were often far more difficult than you imagined. It’s helpful to study the challenges and setbacks of your heroes as well as their victories. Your role models may change over time. It’s important, however, to have people who you admire and want to emulate. You may want to emulate the actions, techniques or personality traits of your role models.

Put in the Time to Practice

While the best athletes are usually gifted with extraordinary talents, the public doesn’t always appreciate how much practice goes into developing these abilities. A good example is the golf legend Ben Hogan, who famously practiced as much as 12 hours per day.

The same is true for great musicians, artists, chefs, surgeons or anyone else who exhibits great skill. Everything worthwhile requires practice and honing your abilities. Keep in mind that the 80/20 rule applies to practice and training as much as anything else. By paying attention to where you get the best results, you’ll be able to “practice smarter” as well as work smarter.

This involves social and interpersonal skills as well as technical abilities. If you’re in sales, for example, you may have to practice making phone calls or talking to prospects. If you pay attention to your results, you can then make strategic changes in your approach. You probably don’t remember this, but even learning how to speak and walk required hours and hours of practice. Keep this in mind when you want to accomplish anything in life, from building a business to playing an instrument to running a marathon.

Be a Student of the Game

You should never consider yourself too old or experienced to obtain more knowledge. Learning is a lifelong process. Athletes are always studying their sport, looking for areas where they could make improvements. In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s equally important to keep learning. This may include keeping up with the latest technology, studying your competition or thinking of new ways to fast track your career.

Love the Victories, Hate the Defeats

We’ve already discussed the importance of not fearing failure. The other side of the coin is fearing success or greatness. This is more common that you might imagine. Achieving great things can be stressful, as it separates you from the everyday.

You may worry that your friends and competitors alike will be jealous if you get too far. Additionally, you probably know that in order to achieve notable victories you’ll have to make some significant changes. This can be exciting, but it’s also challenging. This is another area where it’s helpful to look to your most inspirational role models. These are people who did not avoid the challenge of achieving greatness.

The flip side of this is that you should hate the defeats. As we’ve mentioned, you should never be afraid of failing. At the same time, you should constantly be looking for ways to avoid or overcome failure. It’s also important to remember that the good is the enemy of the great. Avoid the temptation to settle for “good enough.” In a world of constant change, good enough ends up leading to mediocrity and, eventually, failure.

Become a Champion

The term “one hit wonder” comes from music and refers to groups who only had one notable hit. The same fate can befall people in any field of endeavor. If you want to be a true champion and not simply a one hit wonder, you have to think long term. When thinking about your goals, it’s worth asking yourself if you’ll be satisfied with a single victory -or if you want to accomplish something more long lasting. In sports, this is the difference between an athlete who has one outstanding game or season and one who becomes renowned for countless victories. Athletes such as Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Usbain Bolt and Jim Thorpe come to mind.

Consider what you want your legacy to be. This involves setting goals in not just one area, but in all the major areas of your life. For example, it’s fine to have a goal such as making a million dollars. Yet, if you want to consider your legacy, you should think beyond this and consider what kind of impact you want to have in your field. This also relates to our main topic of change. Great leaders are true agents of change. Those who only achieve single victories, meanwhile, may only create temporary changes.

What Athletes Can Teach Us About Dealing With Change

We’ve looked at some of the qualities possessed by the best athletes that can be applied to any area of life. All of these are related to the fundamental issue of change. Change is always happening but we have a great deal of leeway when it comes to directing and responding to it. Athletes must deal with this reality on a daily basis. The following are some of the ways that change impacts athletes. Consider how each of these has analogies in other areas of life.

  • Changes in the physical environment. Examples include the wind and weather conditions on a golf course, track or playing field.
  • Actions of opponents. Athletes much constantly respond to what their opponents are doing in games and contests. If your opponent does something unexpected, you must be ready to change your own strategy at any moment.
  • Training and practice. Developing more effective practice routines. This, of course, is to make changes -i.e. improvements to themselves.
  • Changes in rules and governing bodies. Athletes and teams must constantly navigate the constantly changing rules of sanctioning bodies, which may affect their schedules, how much they earn, what equipment they’re allowed to use and many other factors.

While the above pertains to sports, it’s not hard to see how similar changes occur in our lives all the time. Conditions are constantly changing. In your career and business, you are always dealing with competition. To succeed, you must always be practicing, learning new skills and making improvements. These are the actions that allow change to work in your favor. When you improve yourself and achieve goals, you’re making positive changes. When you fall behind and don’t respond effectively to conditions, you become a victim of changes that seem out of your control.

While everyone must deal with change, athletes must do so in a more accelerated manner. For them, change comes swiftly and constantly. That’s why one of the most critical qualities possessed by the greatest athletes is their ability to adjust to change. Furthermore, they are always consciously facilitating change in themselves by practicing and improving their skills. Whether you enjoy sports as a spectator or participant, athletes can teach and inspire you to deal more effectively with change in your own life.



G. Bruce Riggs serves as an executive sales coach and marketing professional located in Tulsa, OK.   If your sales force or business is lacking the skills necessary to compete in today’s ever-changing marketplace – Bruce brings nearly 60,000 hours of practical sales experience and is well known for his results.  Bruce also is the author of the popular book series, “I Didn’t Sign Up…” and “Coaching The Super 5%”.

Check out our online professional sales training here:  PerformOne Academy

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