How to Recover from Losing
Nothing compare to the thrills and woes of competing in a martial arts fight, whether it be MMA or a competition in Jujitsu or Taekwondo, and unless you’re a freak of nature, losing is a natural part of competing. Many famous boxers and MMA masters lost their first fights and several after that.
So much focus is placed on the training leading up to a fight and the fight itself that most overlook the aftermath. What if you lose? How will you cope with defeat? While you should of course never second-guess your abilities before a fight, knowing that you can handle what happens, win or lose, can give you the edge to becoming a consistent fighter with the longevity of a champion.
Face Your Fears Head-On
The fear of losing is inevitable, especially after a loss. Your confidence might be as broken and bruised as your body. Depression may set in. It is natural to feel this way, particularly in martial arts competitions. The goal you’ve been striving to achieve for months slips through your fingers, and if you’ve taken responsibility, there’s nobody to blame but you. You might doubt whether the sport is for you or if you can continue.
This is natural.
Dr. Ted Butryn, associate professor of Sports Psychology at San Jose State University, has conducted several studies on preparation and recovery from loss. According to Butryn, “The fear of losing, in all the research, is about the worst thing you can deal with. Fear of failure is a powerful, powerful thing. It’s the worst place for you to be in. It creates more stress, and the stress makes it less likely that you’ll be able to cope the way you need to cope in a fight, before a fight and after a fight.”
So how do you counter this stress and fear?
The most important thing you can do after losing a fight is to accept responsibility for your loss. First of all, blaming others for your loss is bad sportsmanship. Second, it can actually be detrimental to your mindset and future training.
Refusing to take responsibility for losing will cause you to lose future fights, plain and simple. It fosters an attitude of making excuses: the mat may have been slippery, your opponent may have outweighed you by a ton, you may have taken the fight at the last minute, and you may have been tired from a previous fight in a tournament. Whatever the case, you are focusing the reasons of your defeat on external causes, not internal ones.
The moment you realize you are the reason you lost, you will begin to recover. Nobody likes to lose and nobody likes to make mistakes, but realizing your shortcomings will help you grow. You will be able to move on, and you will fight that fear that settles in with a loss.
Adopt a Win/Learn Attitude
After you’ve accepted your part in your defeat, you can begin to focus on growing. Don’t carry the attitude of winning and losing. Instead, shift your mentality to think of the arena as winning and learning. If you lose your fight, you just got a hand-crafted lesson on what you need to work on.
Turn each excuse you could make into an area to improve. For example, if you fought someone bigger than you and lost, see that as a lesson in not being quick enough. If your opponent got in twice as many hits as you did, see that as a lesson in covering up and striking more ferociously. If your opponent made you tap out, realize what grapples and clinches you are most susceptible to. If you watch footage of your fight and it looks like your opponent had the momentum at all times and kept you off-balance, see that as an opportunity to work on your footwork.
Get Back to Training as Soon as Possible
The longer you wait to hit the gym or return to training, the harder it will be. While it is understandable to want to nurse your wounds for a few days and indulge in a few comforts (especially if you’ve been on a hardcore diet and exercise regimen), the sooner you can return to your training the better. This goes back to the psychological aspect of fear mentioned earlier.
The more time you have away from training, the longer you have to be stuck in your own head, second-guessing every punch you threw and every move you made. The economy of fighting can be tough, especially in the higher levels of MMA and other professional competitions. Focusing on winning is important because it continues careers, but focusing on the process—the continual bettering of yourself and your techniques—will get you back into the gym and ready for more.
Talk to Your Support Group
Don’t think you have to bear your defeat alone. You’re definitely not the only one in your gym or class who has lost a fight or competition, and acknowledging that can help. Many of your teammates and friends have been in your shoes, and they can help you get through your struggles. Many people feel worthless after losing a fight, like everyone is judging them as a poser and as worthless, but this is all a mental trap you must overcome. Talking with your support group will let them validate you as a fighter and as a person.
On the Physical Side
After getting the right mentality for recovering from a loss, make sure you keep yourself healthy physically, too. Competition is extremely taxing on your body, so get plenty of rest so your muscles can recover. Treat any severe bruises, scrapes, cuts, or broken bones with the care they deserve and get them checked out by a doctor, especially if the injury is to your head.
Avoid abusing any substances like painkillers and alcohol after losing. Not only will this negatively impact your body, it will also prevent you from getting into the frame of mind where you can take responsibility for the loss and get back to training.
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