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How to Be a Winner, Even When You Lose

by By Betsy Kellerman, ATC/LAT, Manager of the Overland Park Regional Medical Center Sports Medicine and Concussion programs

Elite athletes experience success even when they lose, because they know how to have a winning attitude and focus on their own performance goals.

Although most of us like to celebrate victory in sports, we can’t all be winners. Someone has to lose, whether that means missing first place by a hair or placing dead last. No one knows that better than the athletes who compete in international sports competitions.

Not only do they have to be physically ready to compete, these elite athletes also have to be mentally ready to accept the outcome. They have to prepare to face losses, and, in the end, still emerge victorious. Learn how you can do the same in your day-to-day life.

What is a winning attitude?

There are two components to a winning attitude: an external drive to win and an internal drive to perform your best.

Athletes attain attitude through training where they learn to ignore the external drive and focus on the internal drive. They know they can’t control the outcome of the race or how well their competitors do, but they can strive to reach performance-related goals they set for themselves.

How to perfect your attitude

  • Set realistic, attainable performance goals. For example, marking improvements in your performance from month to month. Strive for a little more each time. Work toward those same goals even when in a competition.
  • Anticipate distractions. Find some cues that will help you stay focused on your performance. Then rehearse that plan. Visualize yourself going through the competition, while focused on your cues, to avoid events that might distract you.
  • Don’t equate self-worth with performance. You may have to really work to separate your self-worth from your performance, but it’s worth it. Otherwise you will never feel successful.
  • Accept your mistakes and weaknesses. If not, you will not allow yourself to do things that make you look bad, and in the end, that avoidance will keep you from getting better. Let go of mistakes and improve your weaknesses.
  • Laugh. A lot. When the going gets tough, the tough laugh. Find something to laugh about in stressful situations and you’ll build a good habit to deal with them.

Obstacles to having a winning attitude

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to success is the tendency to focus on the outcome rather than the activity. When you focus on the score or the time, factors that are ultimately out of your control, then the whole experience becomes miserable. Avoid this by focusing on getting better, not being the best.

Another obstacle is comparing yourself to others. Because other people have different genetics, experiences and training, comparing yourself to them is never going to be “apples to apples.” Get around this obstacle by comparing your current performance against your past performances.

Remember, when you define your own measurement of success, you experience success whether you win or lose.

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