How Champions React to Failure

The following is an excerpt from "The Winner's Mind" by Allen Fox, Ph.D. Visit his article archive to read more from Dr. Allen Fox.

The successful achiever reacts differently to failure than most people.

Losses challenge champions and actually increase their motivation. They become more determined and intense, and silently vow to work harder and increase their preparations so that they can win next time. They keep their heads, make necessary adjustments, and become more dogged than ever in their quest for success.

As in boxing, the winners must be able to take a punch as well as give one out. There are no champions with "glass jaws."

In contrast, the ordinary person who takes a loss is prone to become discouraged, panicky, less determined and do something foolish. This is because most people are, to begin with, fearful that they will fail.

The loss is proof that their lurking fears were well founded. In their minds, the probability of failure has grown dramatically and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to hold their heads up and compete with their original vigor. They subconsciously want to escape so they numb themselves to the pain of failure by damping their desire to win.

Tennis Champions Rebound Quickly From Reversals

You can see this in condensed form in a single tennis match. When Jimmy Connors, one of the great competitors of all time, lost a point he did not get rattled. He simply got tougher on the next point. And if he lost that one he raised the gain further and tried even harder to win the following point, and so on.

With each point that Connors lost, his determination to win the next point grew, and he became increasingly likely to win it. This was a self-stabilizing situation, and it made Connors very difficult to beat.

Since he toughened as he got behind, it was very hard for opponents to develop momentum against him. His increasing resistance stopped opponents from winning streaks of points.

The losers, by contrast, weaken with each point they lose and become increasingly likely to lose the next point. This is an unstable situation where they are likely to lose streaks of points, spiral into despair, and ultimately fall apart.

When tennis champions lose a match their instincts are to go to the practice court, work harder and improve, while those with loser mentalities become disheartened and less inclined to practice.

Losses simply motivate the champions to get better. They will assess their weaknesses and strive to fix them. They will get into better physical condition and work to hone their weapons so that the next time they enter the arena they will be better armed.

Losses make them increase their activity levels. Their drive to control their fate impels them to take action. They know that if they do nothing the losses will continue, and they are not willing to let that happen.

You can see that if the champion's approach is applied consistently over time, it will eventually produce an awfully good tennis player. The losers, on the other hand, weaken and do little if anything to save themselves from further failures.

A Setback Helps Me

The biggest tournament I ever won as a junior was the result of a setback.

In those days (the mid-1950's) the Los Angeles Tennis Club was the hotbed of tennis in Southern California. The offices of the Southern California Tennis Association were there, and all of the top professionals played at the "Club" when they were in town.

Besides the pros, there were always other good players around if you wanted a game -- and I always did. As one of the top juniors in the area I was given a guest membership to the Club so that I could practice there, improve and bring glory to the Southern California Tennis Association.

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