With the Super Bowl recently concluded, there has been a lot of talk about the game, and the endless comparisons that inevitably follow. Does the Giants’ win mean Eli is a better QB than Tom Brady? Than Peyton? Do the Giants have what it takes to maintain their high level of competition? Is Tom Coughlin really a better coach than Belichick, or did he simply figure out the Patriots on this occasion?
One of the things that has always fascinated me though is the psychology of the “loser.” Whenever I watch a championship game I can’t help but feel for the coach of the losing team who is invariably put in the spotlight and asked “what went wrong?” That said, focusing on the psychology of such a loss, and more importantly, how to recover and move on from such an (often traumatic) event is key for any athlete or high performer to understand.
Time heals all. This may sound trite and clichéd, but in this case it also happens to be true. In the moment immediately following a loss at a big event such as a world championship or Olympic Games, athletes can often be inconsolable. Everything they have worked so hard for – all the training, careful diet planning, travel, and sacrifice – seems to be for naught. Feelings of failure are commonplace at one’s failing to achieve an ultimate goal. That said, taking some time afterwards to decompress is always a good idea. In order to properly evaluate what went wrong (and learning how to correct things in the future), you need to have a clear head. Taking a few days (or weeks if possible) to achieve this is a much better plan than trying to watch game film the next day while the wounds are still fresh.
Not all goals are created equal. One the things that I preach to my clients the most is the importance of setting goals based on one’s personal performance, rather than simply on outcomes. If this is a new concept, allow me to explain. Performance goals are those goals in which the measure of success is a previously established personal performance. The amount of time it took you to complete a run. The number of consecutive free-throws you can hit. Basically, something in which you are competing against yourself, and the standards of performance that you maintain. With outcome goals, the focus of competition is completely external. Winning a race, beating an opponent, any type of situation in which the focus of competition is interpersonal. The key distinction between these two types of goals really comes down to one thing: control. When sitting down and evaluating things after a big loss, it’s really important to focus on improving those things that are directly under your control. Trying to win a big game is important, but there are so many factors involved, that at the end of the day, you need to focus on those things that you can control, and leave the rest to play out as it will.
Looking to the future. Immediately after a big loss, its tough not to dwell on what could have been. Second guessing is an all too common occurrence that affects both professionals and amateurs alike. That said, its important to remember that, despite the loss this time, there are other events in the future which have yet to crown a victor. Shifting focus from the past to the future can be a good way to gain some perspective, reassess, and recommit to one’s goals. Its important to remember the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them, but keeping one’s focus and attention towards the future is the best way to continue progressing towards one’s ultimate goals.