Losing is beautiful, it’s a gift, it’s a learning opportunity. This reminds me of a clip from Liar Liar with Jim Carey when his son makes a wish that for one day he can’t lie. His son says to his dad, “my teacher says that beauty is on the inside.” To which Carey’s character who has to say what he really thinks responds, “That’s just something ugly people say.”

So is all this talk about losing just something losers say? Because tonight we got routed 18-2, a score I haven’t seen in awhile, if ever, and it didn’t feel like a gift if I’m being honest. There were lessons there, there were moments of triumph, everyone played and our team culture was positive so that part was ok. There were little celebrations, and we tried to have them as they unfolded. But I’m not glowing in grateful splendor now. Instead I’m here, on my blog, feeling that feeling that coaches get when we wonder if we suck at our jobs.

Every game has a loser, why is it so hard to process it when it happens? It’s the reason so many coaches ditch positivity and resort to screaming, demanding, demeaning, embarrassing, and doing anything possible to avoid it. It’s miserable and it makes us question ourselves and our ability to do what we’ve been hired to do. It’s like trying to start your car when the engine is dead and you’re late for work. It’s frustrating being on the losing side and feeling powerless to turn it around.

But as I sit here processing what to work on next, writing out how this losing thing is wreaking havoc on my psyche, I’m starting to see the gift I was missing while I was too busy feeling like I was failing my team. A reminder. Positivity is NOT SOFT. We don’t need to trade wins for it, it’s not either or. Positivity must go hand in hand with competition in order to be successful. There’s a recipe for successful culture and programs, and like baking, a missing ingredient can turn something sweet into something bitter and hard to swallow. We can’t pick and chose our philosophy based on the situation, our mood, our record or our amounts of pressure. We need them all.

  • Positive perspective on the past, present, and future (the story we tell ourselves)
  • Belief in players, team, and self and the ability to do things not yet done
  • Faith in the process
  • Expectations and Standards
  • Accountability in the controllable areas (effort, kindness, focus, being prepared)
  • Communication
  • Openness to new ideas, trying new things, avoiding labels

Sometimes we get focused on that positive outlook and start to go into happy land and let our expectations and standards start to slide in lieu of keeping the peace. Other times we get hung up on the standards and accountability and forget to have faith in the process, believe in ourselves, or remain positive.  Like it or not, losing is a built in part of the process for all but a historic elite few. Our philosophy, faith, and recipe for success must be constant in the face of wins or losses because both are coming our way.

Winning doesn’t make us winners and losing doesn’t make us losers. But losing our way, our purpose, our reason for leading these teen athletes in an attempt to control an outcome – that is what we should be losing sleep over. Not a scoreboard. Not a title, banner, or trophy, those will come and go.

And so my fellow coaches, rest well in your purpose, strive to win but truly let go of the outcomes and let the process define your win instead.  Uncontrollable outcomes and circumstances are the number one reason for coach burnout and turnover.   I promise not to let them be mine, don’t let them be yours. Winning is fleeting and only lasts until the next game where you must start the battle over. Losing stings, but is erased with that next win.  My point is, neither will bring you lasting peace or destruction so don’t give them that power.

Tomorrow we return to the field to get 1% better once again.

Kate Leavell is a high school varsity and youth girls' lacrosse coach now living in Minneapolis, Minn. A US Lacrosse Coach Development Program trainer, she is the author of the Coaches Emergency Practice Guide. Read more of her thoughts at kateleavell.com and follow her on Twitter: @kateleavell