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Should Coaches Hate Losing?

It’s not unusual for successful coaches and players to talk about how much they hate losing. This is typically seen as an example of their intense competitive drive and portrayed as the one of the reasons behind their success.

But losing is an unavoidable part of competing in sports. After all, (almost) every game has a winner and a loser, and only a small percentage of teams get to end their season with a championship.

In a blog entry on his website, former college basketball coach Bob Walsh explains why hating losing may not be the best approach for a coach to take.

“I hear the phrase “I hate losing” all the time. I’m not sure that’s healthy. We all want to win, no one likes to lose. But being a great competitor doesn’t mean you have to hate losing. You have to be able to handle losing. How well do you handle things you really hate in other areas of life? How well do you handle yourself around people you hate? You probably just avoid those people.

Well, you can’t avoid losing, no matter how good your team is. Don’t hate losing, develop a way to handle it that allows for competitive excellence.”

He explains that coaches who “hate losing” can have a hard time bouncing back in practice the next day. After all, someone who is mad about a loss the night before will likely carry a negative attitude into practice. So then they hate practice and eventually they can start hating the team.

Walsh makes it clear that he doesn’t like losing, and he feels as bad after a loss as anybody else. But hating losing, in Walsh’s view, puts too much emphasis on the outcome instead of the process. We all know that sometimes your team can perform at a top level and lose or play poorly and win. What Walsh does admit to hating, however, are the things that prevent teams from being great.

“I hate when teams show up on a Sunday morning tired and not ready to compete. I hate when we aren’t focused when we are running through our stuff. I hate when players give in to fatigue in practice, and stop competing. I hate when players take plays off. That’s the stuff I really hate.”

So instead of simply hating losing, he uses losses as a way to form a plan to improve and find success. He recounted a game he coach while at Rhode Island College, when the team was 17-3. They lost a very good team from Amherst College that out played them. Although he felt awful when the game ended, he noticed the players seemed OK.

“It wasn’t that they accepted losing. It was just that they realized we were still 17-4, we had a chance to win a championship, and this loss wasn’t going to define us. I was the one getting ready to make too big of a deal out of the loss, when ultimately Amherst was just better than us, and they beat us. But we were still the best team in our league, and we went on to win the league and go back to the Sweet 16.”

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