As a journalist, I have been trained to not use absolute words in a story. Very little in life is definite, and there is seemingly always an exception.
Except in sports. In sports losing always sucks. There is no other way to say it.
No player enjoys defeat, no team likes being second best. And you can bet the house that any athlete who says they are happy to just be on the podium is lying through their teeth.
But losing is just as much a part of sports as winning is. In sports, losing is a virtual certainty. At the end of every year or event, only one team or one person is the victor. That means at the end of every year or event, dozens, even hundreds or thousands in some cases, will have lost. As such, it is important to learn how to lose gracefully, because it is bound to happen, and it is bound to happen often.
It is so easy to be gracious in victory. After a win, it is painless to be able to complement the opposing team for their performance and say it was a hard fought game. But losing respectfully is what separates the truly classiest of athletes—the men from the boys so-to-speak.
Pride is not just about winning. Having pride when you lose shows your character and maturity more than being classy after a victory ever could. American novelist James Lane Allen once said, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” In sports, losing is the ultimate form of adversity, and thus how an athlete handles can give the truest insight into his or her character and maturity.
Take game four of the Lakers-Mavericks series in the NBA’s 2011 Western Conference Semi-Finals, for instance. The Lakers, on the verge of being swept in an in embarrassing fashion, trailed by nearly 40 points with time dwindling. Two Lakers (Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum) took the word classless to an entirely new level, throwing cheap shots at Mavericks players that could have caused a serious injury.
Cheap shots are never permissible at any level, from professional sports all the way down to pick-up ball. An athlete must never stoop down to that level, as it is the ultimate form of immaturity and lack of respect for the sport. How hard is it to suck it up and tell the other team that they played a good game?
Sore losers blame anyone or anything but themselves for the loss. They claim that the referee was not calling penalties properly, that the other team was playing dirty, or that they got unlucky—anything to avoid simply saying that they were simply outplayed.
And that is where the confusion lies for any athlete. Admitting that you were outplayed does not equate to admitting that your opponent was better than you. The best team or best player does not always win. If it did, why even bother playing the game?
In no way does this mean that the losing team has to fly the flag of the winning team or has to shout their praises from high echoing mountaintops. It simply means that during the game you demonstrate composure, and after the game you line up, shake hands and be courteous. Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that requires any serious effort. Even if you are stung a little bit by a loss, your image as a player and a team goes up if you lose or win with dignity and respect.
Players need to remember that sporting events are some of the most public forums in the world. When you act, you not only represent yourself, but the entire team and the entire organization as well. So when things don’t necessarily go as planned, take it in stride. When you lose, lose with class. Being proud of how you performed and at least being aware of things you need to improve upon for next time is key. When it comes to losing, good sportsmanship means congratulating the winners promptly and willingly. It also means accepting the game’s outcome without complaint and without excuses, even when less than thrilled with the outcome.