Coping with winning and losing

With the fall sports season coming to a close, let’s reflect on winning and losing.

A team’s record is an important part of sports. It is important to understand that the way we view winning and losing can affect the future. Winning and losing streaks bring their own challenges, below are some of the obstacles teams will face.


On the surface, winning seems to solve problems. Winning coaches are seen as brilliant innovators and effective leaders, while the players are seen as hard workers who have the talent to overcome any obstacle. At the end of a winning season, coaches and players walk away happy. At the end of a championship season, coaches and players often feel invincible.

When a team is winning, coaches and playersfeel pressure to keep winning. This pressure can cause a team to lose focus and under perform. Thus, barring injuries, winning teams do not under perform because of a lack of talent – players and coaches succumb the pressure of expectations.

There are strategies winning teams can use to help overcome these pressures. The easiest, and perhaps most beneficial strategy centers on the team’sperception of winning.

Teams must believe that their winning is due to ability. Ability is essential because it is a relatively stable component. You can quickly teach an athlete new skills, but his or her underlying athletic abilities take longer to change. By reinforcing that a team’s wins are due to the ability of each athlete of the team, and the team recognizes that ability is not easily changed, then winning the next game will be a little bit easier.


The problem, however, is the winning will eventually stop. No team, in any sport, in any league, at any level is still undefeated. Teams may have an undefeated season, but a loss will ultimately find them. When that day comes, coaches are seen as stubborn traditionalists not open to change, while players are seen as lacking the talent to play at a championship level. At the end of a losing season, coaches and players often walk away disappointed, and sometimes disgruntled with each other.

Unlike with winning, no one wants to attribute losing to a lack of ability. Since ability does not change easily, if a group of athletes believe that they do not have the athletic ability to complete against another team, it will be next to impossible to win the game. Instead, losing needs to be attributed to unstable factors such as effort and luck.

Athletes can control their effort levels by believing that a loss was due to not playing to the team’s potential, and it gives hope that the team can turn it around. Similarly, every athlete and team has suffered from bad luck – a referee makes a bad call or the ball takes an unfortunate bounce. By pointing out the unfortunate spouts of bad luck, athletes and coaches can rest assured that it was not just them who lost the game.

Putting it Together

It is important to not over attribute losses to unstable elements such as lack of effort or bad luck. Certain teams will be beat because they do not have as talented players. Teams, coaches especially, should not dwell on things that will not help improve the team. It does not do anyone any good to focus on a team’s lack of talent.

Winning teams should not overlook the role that good luck plays in a win. Coaches should focus on what is stable and can be controlled.

There is a lot more to winning and losing than the play on the field or court. Athletes need to understand how the way they perceive a game’s outcome influences subsequent results. Teams can continue winning streaks or break losing streaks by changing the way they view wins and losses.

Do you have questions?

Do you have a question about how to improve your athletic performance? Dr. David Schary invites questions or comments from any athlete, coach, or parent. Email any question or comment to