I debated long an hard whether to write this post or not, but decided to go ahead. If you know me personally, then you know I am originally from Belgium (Antwerp to be precise) and that I support the Belgian football team. Hence, losing isn’t fun as the title for this post, because unless you live under a rock or in a country where football or soccer isn’t watched, then you would have noticed the world cup being played. Belgium lost in the semi-final to big neighbour France.
For a small country with only 11 million people, pulling together a team of people with the skills to be at the top of their game is no mean feat. For a while, this group of players has been tipped to be the golden generation, yet in all previous world and European cups, they didn’t gel as a team. This time under new leadership, they seemed to come together and had a stronger belief in themselves. As a side-effect, a whole nation of supporters started to believe in the chances of actually winning the world cup.
Personally, I was hoping they could too. For the biggest reason that it would for once and for all put to bed that Belgians don’t have a killer instinct and can actually win. I feel strongly that it is something that could change a lot for a nation, aside from just sports.
In top sports, winning and losing are part of the game. Losing will still hurt, it is disappointing and brings out a whole range of emotions. Just looking at the players at the end of the game, you could read from their body language that it was not what they worked hard for. It will take grit to recover and show up in the best form to play for a third place.
In our work in gamification, we often work on gamification and game designs and clearly set win conditions. At the end of the day, every game needs win-conditions. What is often overlooked is how to handle the losers journey.
Losing isn’t fun and the question in a work setting is often, should it be that way? In sports tournaments like in the world cup, really the winner takes it all, whereas, in events like the Olympics, the first three still receive credit and fourth place is considered the loser spot. I personally don’t think losing should be fun, if the aim of the game is to win.
Mentally, winners gain confidence and losers may have theirs knocked, it will take grit and practising to break through to a win. In business, if competition is core to how you structure work performance and recognition, it will also be important to build up people’s resilience and mental ability to deal with losing.
Practise winning to learn about losing
By building in practising to win and the understanding that it will take effort as well as losing to make it needs to be part of the design. Accepting second, third or minute improvements as good enough is not the same as practising to win. It is practising to improve. Improvement and measuring improvement is an important part of building confidence and as well as tracking to see if your effort is achieving something, but ultimately it is winning that will be teaching the true feeling.
By allowing players to experience the feeling of winning, you also instil a spirit that losing can’t be that good a feeling. When one team wins and another loses, the rhetoric and gracefulness of both sides is something that organisations can control. I like how in the game of rugby, the winners line up to applaud the losing team going to the dressing rooms and then the favour is returned by the losers. In the end, both sides recognise it was a game hard fought on the field. Soccer has a lot to learn in that and business too.
How to pick back up after a loss
Imagine you worked your heart out to make it to the top of the sales leader-board but someone still beats you to the top spot and wins the prize you really aimed for. A quick reset isn’t always the best way forward. In fact, allow yourself to experience the negative emotion and use it to feed your motivation. When it comes to developing inner motivation, a vast amount of society is driven by negative or avoidance motivation. It serves a purpose, hence we can use it to our advantage in the next quarter.
Examine what you did and failed to do that caused the loss as well as explore what the opposition did to win the end-game. In the world cup game, effectively one team scored and the other failed to do it. There were errors made in several positions and some players just froze. I would work with those players on breaking through similar situations, simulating them, role-playing them over and over in practice. So that when they face the situation again in real life, they know how to deal with it.
Some errors were forced out by the other team, again it is something you can work on and improve over time. Others were mental mistakes, because of panic, loss of belief and frustration. The mental game is also something I would recommend practising on, just as much as the skill to play the actual game. You shouldn’t set the bar lower, just because you lost one game, one quarter or didn’t master something the first time. All things worth winning take practice and losing to get to the top.
Creating lifelike conditions in training is how people are trained in emergency response and military units. We often see this very element missing when it comes to jobs in management, sales, customer service and operations. A lot of people wanting to perform at a top level turn to games and simulations to practise their skill in a safe environment so they can test out different strategies. I believe practising at all levels such as skills, mental game, tactical and strategic responses, etc. will be the game changer that makes the difference between winning and losing.
Passion and the motivation to win and keep implementing what you trained for when on the field, will ultimately create the win. Execution comes from the willingness to try and to keep going no matter what. It comes from discipline and sometimes being patient with your emotion so you can coherently finish the game.