Losing hurts. I know the feeling well. I’ve lost exactly 57 jiu-jitsu matches. I’ve also won more than a few, but today I want to talk about the losses.
Back when I was a white belt, whenever I lost a match, the painful narrative in my head would go something like this:
What will my teammates think of me after this? When I go back to class on Monday people are going to ask me, ‘How did the tournament go?’, and I’m going to have to tell them I lost, and they are going to be so disappointed. Nobody will respect me after this. My coaches must be so disappointed in me! They must have been thinking about how terrible I am at jiu-jitsu the whole time they were watching me lose that match.
It took years for me to make peace with the fact that losing is an inevitable part of having a competition career. But today I’m not just a competitor anymore. In the past year I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to start teaching and coaching as well. And I’ve learned something I really wish I had understood back when I was a newbie white belt struggling in every tournament:
The only person who is disappointed when you lose a jiu-jitsu match is you.
That’s right. You’re the only one who is disappointed. Your teammates who don’t compete look up to you. Your teammates who do compete have been there before. And your coaches? They don’t care that you lost.
But…isn’t it a coach’s job to care?
As a coach, I care about my students. Every single one of them, whether they compete or not. I care about their progress, and that they are having fun in class. I care that they stay safe on the mat, take good care of their training partners, and take good care of themselves. And most of all, I care that they are finding in jiu-jitsu whatever it is they are looking for when they take time out of their day to put on a gi and step onto the mat.
Only a minority of jiu-jitsu practitioners look to test their skills by competing. Few people have the courage to walk into the arena and face an opponent. It is a terrifying prospect. When you step onto the mat at a tournament, you feel as if the whole world is watching you. Every spectator in the bleachers has their eyes on you. They are watching you when you lose.
And your coach. Your coach is there too.
I will always be there for those of my students who, like me, feel the burning desire to compete. I will be there by their side when they step out onto the mat, I will cheer for them as they struggle to overcome adversity, and when it’s over, whatever the outcome, my heart brims with pride and admiration for them.
So, what is your coach thinking when you lose a jiu-jitsu match?
As a coach, the narrative in my head goes something like this:
I am so, so proud of you for going out there! You fought your heart out, you conquered your fear and did something terrifying. I know that you worked very hard to get ready for this moment, and when the moment came, you wiped the sweat off your palms, walked onto the mat, and gave it everything you had. You are the true spirit of jiu-jitsu. You are the reason I do what I do.
Losing will always hurt, but know that you are the only one who feels the disappointment of a loss. Your teammates and your coaches? We respect you more than you could ever know.