What is a proper reaction to a loss?

One of the biggest criticisms of this generation is that they are immune to losing. Many attribute this flaw to the number of games that children play, as it makes any single game less important. 

I am very competitive, but I am not sure that this perceived lack of caring is bad. When I was young, we played 20-24 competitive games per year, and every one was a life and death experience. I remember in 8th grade, when we lost the third game of the season, we cried in the locker room after the game because we thought that was the normal behavior. Is it? Do we really want players to cry after every loss? Is that the behavior that coach’s desire when they disparage the competitiveness of this generation?

In Zach Lowe’s interview with Stephen Curry, Curry admits to going out, relaxing, and drinking adult beverages after falling behind 2-1 in the 1st Round of the playoffs against Memphis last season:

There is that famous story about how, after Memphis beat you to take a 2-1 lead in the second round last year, Draymond invited you out to have some food, and maybe a drink or two was consumed …

Oh, yeah. For sure, there was.

Adults are allowed to do that.

100 percent.

Did you talk ball? Or avoid it? 

Everything but basketball. We went to Blues City Cafe in Memphis, had some catfish, some ribs, a couple of drinks, and enjoyed ourselves in the midst of a loss.

Now, will all of the coaches who complain about their players’ behaviors after losses please publicly admonish Curry and Green as you publicly call out your own players?

Curry and Green relaxed and enjoyed themselves after a loss, and they went on to win the NBA championship. Do we really need children, teenagers, and college athletes to sulk after a loss to prove that they care?

Along with their perceived ambivalence to losing, many adults criticize the video-game culture of today’s adolescents (without acknowledging that every NBA player spends hours playing video games). As I have written previously (here, here, and here), why not learn from video games?

One of the appealing characteristics of video games is that when you die, you get a new life. Therefore, you can continue to play and challenge yourself. Similarly, when I was young, and played pickup games at the park, I disliked losing because I had to sit out a game or two, but I could play again and challenge myself when it was my turn. I did not cry after losing a pickup game or dwell on the loss; it did not ruin my day. I waited and played another game. Video games have a similar experience. You play. You lose (die), and you play again.

Tournaments offer that same sort of experience. You play in the morning, and you have an afternoon game regardless of your result. Many adults see this as a negative, as they perceive players to care less about winning. Is that a bad thing? If we are going to speak about the 10-year or 10k hour rule or long term athlete development, why do we want children to sulk or cry or throw a tantrum after a loss? Isn’t playing and risking a loss by trying new things or playing out of one’s comfort zone a positive experience in one’s development? Isn’t learning to cope with a loss and move on to the next game part of being a resilient athlete? If a loss is a mistake, do we want players to stop and carry on after every mistake in a game or move on to the next play? Why is it different with a game?

Yes, some players are less competitive than others. However, just because Kobe Bryant is likely to stay in the gym after a loss until midnight, whereas Curry and Green went out for dinner, does that make one behavior correct and the other incorrect? Does that make Kobe more competitive or a better player than Curry?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

2 thoughts on “What is a proper reaction to a loss?

  • Joe:
    I tweeted that on Monday. It was interesting to see the reactions to Cam Newton through the lens of the story. So many coaches complain about players not caring enough about winning, whatever that means, but then publicly say they’re all about the process and the development of the person and yada yada. Not that they are mutually exclusive, but I think it is often an excuse for coaches to blame the lack of competitiveness rather than to identify the true mistakes or to realize they lack the ability to identify and correct the problems.

    However, I also think there are a lot of coaches who secretly wish their players behaved like Newton. Now, I think they’d talk to them and suggest there might be another way, but I believe a lot of coaches would be pleased with that behavior, because it shows that the player cares.

    Now, that point is debatable too, because you can argue that his behavior was more frustration, immaturity, etc. than caring more than other players about winning. You can also argue that if he cared that much about winning he would have dove for the fumble. I’m not going to criticize either way because I’m not diving for a football with a bunch of 300 lbs behemoths, so I’m not going to challenge a player like Newton on it. But, I think that is the counterargument: Show the competitiveness on the field/court, not by being a poor sport after the game.

    When I see young players act like a poor sport to show that they care, to me it is an act (and/or frustration at oneself), and I know from experience. More important to show competitiveness before (preparation) and during the game, then afterward.

    I honestly did not have a problem with Newton’s behavior. That’s probably how I would be too. I’m actually amazed at the maturity and well-spokenness of most professional athletes after games. But, I also do not believe that we should use Newton to inspire young athletes to behave in the same manner after a game or loss.

    I’ll never forget covering the 2005 women’s Final Four. LSU lost and Simone Augustus was on the post-game interview panel, nearly in tears, and the first question is “Simone, how do you feel right now?” I mean, it’s written all over her face! What do you want her to say?

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