We hate to lose. It doesn’t matter if it happens on the tennis court or while bowling; human beings are created to win. People work hard, train every day and set goals to achieve positive results and win as many matches as possible. We relate our self-esteem to the match’s score so we feel better and more confident when we win. On the other hand, each lose “diminishes” our value and has negative effects on our development. Is it really true that only winning matter? Can we become a better player why losing some games? In this article, I will take a closer look at the losing aspect of tennis and how we can benefit from losing some matches.

Tennis is an individual sport where everything depends on a one person. If we play well, we get all the benefit from these actions. However, if we under perform, we have to be ready for the criticism and tough times. Looking at the journey of world-class players to the top of the ladder, we can clearly see that their pathways were really similar to the ways that many juniors have to face each day. Daily failures, coping with personal and tennis problems as also losing “won” matches are parts of the process that Rafael Nadal or Maria Sharapova had to go through during their years of career. To achieve personal potential and get the best possible results, players have to learn how to find positives from each lost match and how to use these lessons to become a better player. It puts a lot of pressure on the players because many times they are left on they own to get through these obstacles. Additionally, parents put a huge pressure on players by showing support after won matches and being too critical after lost games. Too many adults believe in “win or nothing” approach to tennis and they don’t see that development is a bumpy road with ups and down during the process. Looking for positives in each situation is a necessity to fulfill own potential and get to the highest possible level. After the lost matches, players, coaches and parents should discuss the game and use these information to improve practices and get better in technical, tactical, mental and physical areas. Let’s see what is hidden behind each negative score and how we can get better even while losing.

Tennis is not easy
Being comfortable every time means lack of abilities to cope with difficult situations. Players who are always winning in own category have problems while competing with older and better rivals because they are not used to losing matches. Each loss is a painful moment for everyone so strong personality and persistence are skills that have to be emphasized to stay on the road to success. Coach has to remind players that they are going to lose many matches during their careers and that it is not important how many L’s they have but rather how many times they are going to get back from these bumps. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are great examples of the best players in NBA who have missed many crucial shots but they have never started to doubt in their abilities. They learn from mistakes rather than dwell on them and that is why MJ and Mamba are basketball icons.

Look at the performance
Many players, parents and coaches focus on winning rather on improving. Outcome vs performance mindset is cultivated and players feel that only winning is positive. During my career as a coach, I try to establish focus on performance with my players because I believe that they can’t control the outcome but they can definitely focus on their shots and decisions. The best way for players and parents to understand this mindset is to ask them 2 questions: Can you win the match by playing poorly and not improving? Can you lose the match by playing your best tennis ever? These 2 questions show that you can get nothing from a won battle as also you can learn and improve many skills while losing to the stronger opponent. Understanding this mentality is a first step to the long-term process of developing a successful tennis athlete so coaches, players and parents have to nurture it.

Use it as a motivation
Good and bad memories can act as a huge booster for tennis players. Big wins can push us to more hard work every day because we want to get next trophies. On the other hand, painful losses can motivate us to not lose anymore even one minute of valuable practice and get positive results as soon as possible. Many players tend to get down on their own after bad matches and they lose focus on the main goal. Coaches and parents have to come to help and tell players that this loss is a lesson and we have to use it to not repeat the same mistakes in the future. Motivation is a key to successful career and losing is a factor that can motivate all of us.

As you can see, overall losing is not so bad. Of course, we want to win as many matches as possible but we also want to learn and improve skills in each situation we are participating in. If your players just move on with each win or loss, they will never achieve full potential. Ability to find strengths and weaknesses in each match and use them to improve practice quality, motivate and work even harder are factors that we can observe among the best players on the tour. That is why it is so important to get rid of the question “Did you win?” after the match and replace it with “How did you play?” This approach guarantees that players will focus on proper things and the process will be less disturbed by meaningless scores.

About the Author Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.