Defeat – How do you deal with it?


“Swing low sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home” ahh the chorus rang out around the Twickenham stadium on Saturday night once more only for our heroic team to be defeated against the mighty Australians. Our hopes and dreams of taking the World Cup once again dashed, poor Jonny Wilkinson looked like he needed a hug in the commentary box afterward. This crushing defeat is naturally going to raise questions. Should Stuart Lancaster stay in his job as head coach? amongst many others no doubt.

Defeat is not easy to experience. How many times have you lost out to something or put in so much training and effort only to have the prize snatched away? It might be applying for a new job, looking to win at a competition, trying to lose weight or completing a challenge at work. Whatever your experience you no doubt get a on a massive low that will be filled with lots of “what ifs” and ‘maybes”. Hindsight is a truly wonderful thing, however it is not really that constructive is it as this form of reflection can feel like salt being rubbed into the wound. This is because what is done is done and therefore nothing can be undone. Control has been taken away; therefore we have to move forward as painful as it can feel at the time.

What role do you play in defeat?

Defeat can be participated in, observed or heard about. Of course being a participant is no doubt the hardest part as the first hand experience sits with them. There is an issue around whether the prize was wanted too much. You often hear this as a reason or excuse for defeat happening, “oh yes they wanted it too much, they should have relaxed a bit.” I am not so sure about this, as ambition and a sense of striving to be the best is healthy and creates competitiveness that keeps people going and can then be called upon when things go wrong. What do you think?

The observer has a bigger view of the defeat as depending on their proximity they see what has led up to, contributed to and therefore witnessed, so there is value in this view, but often it can be tainted with personal opinion expressed at facts which can be harder to listen to when reflecting. If we remove the opinion and look at the observed actions we have something to build on.

The third role within defeat is from the person who hears about it. This person will not have participated or even have observed the defeat; therefore the position can potentially be quite valuable. Often the person who hears of a defeat doesn’t offer opinion in the first instance; instead they choose to question what has happened to truly understand the situation. This position comes from a place of response rather than reaction, therefore they feel that their response is more considered and based less in judgement.

When coaching people in times of defeat, the coaches role is to ask specific questions to establish key facts and information in order to the move the recently defeated into a healthier or more constructive place and not to judge. Part of this process might be to listen to the experience of the defeat itself, but only for a specific period of time, as kicking this around or wallowing for too long is not positive. The questions that can be asked of anyone going through a situation where defeat, big or small has occurred would be:

“Was there a choice that was made at any point, that could have avoided the situation you ended up in?”

“What happened during the situation that you believe went well for you?”

“What do you consider to be the main strengths that you possess?”

“How can these be made better and more robust for you?”

“How can you look to maintain this?”

“When you look forward, what specific experiences can you apply?”

“Are there other people around you, that can support you moving forward?”

Attitude plays a big role in coping with defeat. Some people find it is easier just to brush it under the carpet and move on, whilst others choose wallow in the murky waters seeking answers, but often ending up with excuses. From the point of view of the participator it is so important to move away from the things that are out of their control as these are immoveable. It is better to build on the strengths that are in place and move on quickly. It means also that anyone in the role of the observer, who cannot be constructive, needs to be avoided, as they will inadvertently keep the participant in the negative space like glue! Attitude can act as a life preserver, keeping you buoyant, even if this attitude is a masked behaviour. This behaviour will attract the right support and encouragement leading the participant to a place where they feel comfortable to move on. This support and encouragement could come from an unlikely place and that is from the victor. The victor has done something to defeat the opposition, and it is this behaviour that the defeated party needs to tap into, as it is a consideration to moving towards a future success. When coaching people going through a form of defeat, it is interesting to establish if they have thought about what the other side has done in order to achieve the success. Often this is an overlooked area as it can appear too raw to discuss at the time, however that things move on, this can be one of the most useful sources of positive change behaviour, and adopting this can lead to the defeated never making the same mistakes twice.

This week will see another inevitable defeat for someone on the Great British Bake off…let us see how that pans out.





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