Character & Mental Toughness- Keep Your Mind on Losing

Can you help me figure something out?

I’m a teacher with four kids.  I mow my own lawn.  When I’m done, I kick back and enjoy the results.  If it were in my budget to have someone mow it for me, I would probably pay someone to do it.

I would still enjoy the results.

But what if someone mowed it for me and I didn’t have to pay them?  Not a favor,  not a nickle. Would I still enjoy the results?  Yes.

Think ahead to the big game, or big promotion, or big addition to your new house.  What if there was no way you could lose? What if you had 100% certainty that it would happen?

Would you still work hard?

I’m sure some of us would say yes.  I think most of us would say, however hesitantly, no.

Why would we work hard when we were going to win anyway?

Oh sure some of us have it ingrained in our minds that we will work hard.  But much of that is because we have been conditioned to take satisfaction from seeing a job well done; we know it is a prerequisite to success.

If our effort was no longer tied to success, our effort would soon disappear.

If we know we will win, human nature kicks in and we stop working at the same level.  We  stop putting up with stress, pain, and inconvenience.

Those things have no value if we are going to win anyway.

This idea leads me to four thoughts/observations.

The first is when people set the bar so low and strive for little that they just settle, sometimes for next to nothing.  They expect so little of themselves that their win is so easy that it requires no effort.  As an example I think about a kid who is just happy to be on the team and doesn’t push himself to get playing time.  Or a player with great ability who does nothing in regard to reaching his potential.  Or a kid who settles for just barely passing his classes so that he graduates.  I see these things every day.

Second, if we give people rewards without effort, they begin to lose respect for effort and the inclination to put forth an effort.   I think about my youngest son being given a trophy in his second year of soccer even though his team lost every game and rarely scored a goal.  I think about kids getting passed up through schools even though they can barely read or do basic math.  I think about demands for equal playing time having little to do with ability.

Third, when we start feeling that it is inevitable that we are going to win, we let up, we stop giving it our all.  I can think of many a team at every level being ahead late in the game and letting up, only to lose.  I think of the poor people down the street every day at the newspaper store playing the lottery and convinced they will win, instead of doing something for themselves or others.  I think about seniors in their last semester giving up on their academics and teams.

Fourth, when we forget about losing it is the same as thinking that we will inevitably win.  If we are not concerned with losing we put forth little effort.  For an example I think of players who do not train in the off-season or kids who do not study for tests.

See, losing drives me.  Way more so than winning.  I hate to lose. At anything. Ever. Is that because I have some innate sense of pride?  Or is it that I focus on losing?

I look at some people I coach and teach.  I look at some people in the community.  I wonder why these people have so little pride.  But then maybe I think it’s not pride; it’s just one of those four things or a combination of them.  They don’t set their sights very high so they will win, settling for little.  They get rewards for doing little, so they do little.  They feel like they are going to win, so they let up. They don’t think about losing, so they lose.

I want to reach those people.  At least the ones I can.  When I don’t reach them, particularly my players and students, I feel like I lost.  I feel like I let those kids down, my teams down, my school down, and let society down because these people are not contributing to their potential.

I hate losing.

So what are the answers?  What can I do as a teacher or coach to change this?

In a larger sense, what can I do on a larger scale to change that at the community and societal level? I drive around town or pick up a paper and I constantly see people settling, not finishing, being rewarded for doing little, and not giving thought to their inevitable losses.

Don’t tell me little or nothing.  I won’t believe you.  I can not accept that.

I hate losing.

So here are a few of my answers and if you have others please, please send them my way. I’m an educator, so I tend to lean towards educating people as a means to solve problems.

1. Challenge people to be the best they can be.  Help them to recognize their potential. Give them examples of how other people have realized their potential and done great things.  Challenge students in class and players in practice.  Let them know when they could be doing better. Recognize the times they actually do work to their potential, so they can see what they are capable of.

2.Don’t give rewards for things that are not earned.  (I actually did this in the fall.  I refused to let my son have his trophy.  Bless her heart, my wife even supported me. A couple months later my son found it and promptly gave it to his little sister.  I am a fortunate man.)

3. Push people to maintain a consistent high quality effort and require them to finish what they start.  Encourage people to not quit a team or stop doing homework until it’s complete.  Make teams finish their drills and practices. Train players not to relax until the success is actually achieved. Give them examples of situations where people have quit trying right before they were about to succeed.

4. Consistently remind people about what is at stake.  Remind them of how much losing (failing a class, losing a starting spot, losing a game, being passed over for a promotion etc.) is miserable.  Put it right in front of them.  Allow them to lose and make sure they know when they do so they can learn the hard lesson.

I accept that I am limited in my influence on young people.  If a parent is not on the same page as me and holding up their end in these pursuits then I stand little chance of success.  The only other way a kid can succeed is for him to hold up the other side of the vice on his own.  Likewise, on a larger level I can only make people aware  and try to hold up my side of the vice through my voice and vote.

I’m glad we have opportunities to reap the benefits of hard work.  I am grateful for the many fine people I know who work extremely hard.  But I remain puzzled about how I can reach people who are so easily satisfied, provided for, give up quickly, and could care less, at least for now, whether they win or lose.  I know I get to many by doing the things that I do, but I feel there must be a means of reaching more.

I would appreciate any thoughts or strategies you might have on how to attack those four areas I have mentioned. You can comment below or email me.  My email can be reached using the Info/About/Contact link at the top of the page.  I hope to hear from you.

About coachbillmoore

Educator/Author/Speaker/HS & NCAA Coach Character Coach Read Coach Moore’s book “On Character and Mental Toughness” Paperback available at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. "The measure of your character and mental toughness is the space between what you are doing and what you could be doing." -Coach Bill Moore
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6 Responses to Character & Mental Toughness- Keep Your Mind on Losing

  1. Simon Herbert says:

    Great post, Coach! I agree – hard work and losing are two really important things for young people and athletes. No matter how good you are, you will lose at some point, and the manner in which you react to that defines ultimately how successful you will be come. You work hard to be the best you can. When you lose, you work harder. Then you improve.

  2. Sandra says:

    Thank-you for stopping by my page to start. How ironic that I came across your article. I just finished arguing with my teenager about his school work. I was feeling a little guilty because he was using excuses not to apply himself and I had just told him he doesn’t push himself hard enough and accepts too low of a standard. You just alleviated my guilt. Thank-you. I believe that effort is the most important factor in their success. If you put forth all your effort and get a C good for you, but if you do a half a** job and get an A- it’s not good enough because with effort you could have gotten an A.
    I remember asking my son’s tennis coach when he would start winning the tough matches and his answer was “when he’s tired of loosing” If he just had the wins handed to him he never would have worked as hard as he did to reach the level of success he has reached.
    Great article.

  3. Ken Doyle says:

    Be the example show people that the allegedly impossible is possible be “extra” ordinary.

  4. I am thrilled that I came across your motivation blog. This post is great. I have worked with kids for the past twenty-one years and share your passion for helping them reach their full potential. It is truly amazing what a good coach can do for a child on and off the field. Letting children know that you believe in their potential can do so much. The four answers that you came up with are so true! If you get a chance look at my recent post on positive expectations at I think you will like it. Keep up the good work- Changing the world one child at a time.

  5. Peg says:

    Very well written and insightful post…if only there were more that share your view. In my mind, the key is developing intrinsic motivation, where this drive to “not settle” comes from inside. The best, (and perhaps only way,) to engender this mindset in people is to lead by example. Every day, we have to look in the mirror and double-check that we are personally setting a good example for every person with whom we interact in our lives…this is super hard work to do consistently but it all begins with us. As my childhood friend’s mother used to say, “Before you can change the world, you first have to get your own backyard in order.” All we can control in this world is our own mindset and effort…the rest takes care of itself. Thanks again for the words of wisdom…looking forward to more.

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