Winning through Losing

Nick Brennfoerder, M.A., LPC


The recent Olympic Summer games made me think in a different way about one aspect of sports. The dreaded capital “L”, losing. Seeing athletes who have sacrificed so much of their lives come up short on the biggest stage is heart breaking. We don’t often think of this but the vast majority of athletes leave the games without a chunk of shiny medal around their necks. Sports, even with it’s downsides and negatives, can give us great insight into life especially when it comes to accepting losing. 

For us non-professional athletes we don’t often think about losing or winning but we do think in terms of success and the even more dreaded f-word, failure. Now when we talk about losing, maybe more so on the north side of Chicago, we obviously don’t like losing and yet failure has a sting and weight all it’s own. Losing a game is nowhere near the kind of pain and disappointment of a failed relationship or failed career choice or failed work project but sports and games are small, sneaky teachers of how to face the challenge of failure. Here are five lessons that I’ve gleaned from sports that can help us live with the dreaded “L” or failure and not just live but grow from the experience. 

  • First, losing is a part of sports like failure is a part of life. Failure is the byproduct of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. All the role models and heroes we look up to failed somewhere along their road to glory. 
  • Second, losing and failure are painful and like physical pain, we need to allow ourselves time to recover. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve all the energy, time, emotions, and resources you put into whatever it was that didn’t work out. And expect that the more of your life you put into something the harder failing will be. 
  • Third, losing doesn’t make you a loser as failing does not make you a failure. A successful baseball player doesn’t get a hit seven out of ten times. It’s easy to equate performance with self worth but it’s not the whole picture. We accept and love the people closest to us not because of their perfect performance but because of who they are and we should allow ourselves the same grace. 
  • Fourth, painful failure is not fatal. As competitive as our world can be failure can often appear to be a personal apocalypse but remember the first point. It might be true that failure might mean the end of something or the loss of opportunity, but it is not the only part of life. And life, like a baseball season, keeps going and going and going and going. 
  • Fifth, losing or failing challenges us to learn and reevaluate what we define as success. This is what seems to be one of the big differences between teams that are occasionally good and teams that are so good that they are annoying. Of course learning and reevaluating can be painful themselves but in our imperfect world this is the price we must pay to grow. If we are to play the game of life with it’s losses and failures, it is helpful not only to learn to accept failures but to use them for success in the future. 

We all know people personally or from super market tabloids or probably often ourselves, who are incredibly successful in our outward appearances but still feel they are missing the mark somehow. The problem is success or victory in life can’t always be measured by a simple “W” or as a number in a column. For instance a person who is trying to live a healthier lifestyle for the first time just finishing a Fun Run could be considered more of a victory than a pro getting first in a marathon. Simply saying the word “no” can be a victory for some of us who struggle to let those around us know how we feel and what we want. On the outside of my favorite team’s stadium is a quote that I love and that has a powerful definition of victory. Carved in stone it reads “Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory”. Failure calls us to personally reflect and grow and in doing so we find real success. 


Nick Brennfoerder is a Royals fan & sees clients out of the Yorkville Office