Embracing Defeat: You Either Win or You Learn

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected].

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Joseph Basante.

I realize that it’s been some time since I’ve put out a Thoughts From the Desk.  This may be, in part, due to my apprehension in writing something I feel to be less than profound, but that is certainly no excuse for not touching base with the swimmers and families I value so dearly.  That being said, I’ll do my best to make this one short but sweet.

You’ve all heard Coach Dean say it before: “There is no losing – you either win or you learn.”

Easy enough to understand – Very difficult to remember when you’re fresh off the heels of a devastating loss.  You know… the kind of loss that tears a bottomless pit in your gut – the kind that sits with you for days on end and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to move on and stop replaying the event in your mind.

We’ve all been there.  I’ve been there.  And where that is, we really don’t want to hear any coaching clichés.

If you take a moment to think about it though, it’s true.

Once you’ve digested the bitterness of defeat, you may find a sweet aftertaste…ONLY if you look for it.

When I see all of those swimmers on the starting blocks, or sprinters lined up on the track line, I always seem to dwell on one concept:  No one truly knows what the outcome of this race will be.  Sure, certain athletes may be more confident.  Certain athletes may have come with unparalleled hours of preparation.  Certain athletes may not be “feeling it” this particular race.   At the end of the day, not one of them can predict exactly who will become the victor to whom the spoils belong.

Such is life, is it not?

Our greatest responsibility as an athlete…as a professional…as a parent…as an individual… is to reflect on our experiences and identify what brought us to this present moment.  Historically speaking, losing is the most effective way to do this.

I know what you’re thinking: ‘Why is the guy behind the desk telling us to lose?’

Let me make it perfectly clear… we are always losing in some way.  If you think about it deeply, we can frame most situations in our lives to retool the word losing interchangeably with learning.  When we train intensely, practice incessantly, or study diligently, we are in the process of gaining information or experience we did not have prior.   In those pursuits, we are in constant acknowledgment that there is a higher intensity that we haven’t reached, a technique we haven’t perfected, or information we have yet to understand.   In that sense, we are essentially losing….but on our own terms!  If you think about it that way….the greatest winners are actually also the biggest losers!

That confidence, that preparation, that readiness an athlete shows up with…it comes from “losing” in many ways, to the extent that it’s all been seen before.  No stone has not been turned.  To embrace defeat is to acknowledge all of the ways that it can happen and making every effort to prevent it from happening the same way again.  If you’ve taken all of the time in your world in doing that, then you deserve that win more than anyone else does.  And if you lose…it’s just an opportunity to go about it differently next time around.

So where does that leave us?

I’ll say this…the next time you suffer from the unforgiving bite from the cold jaws of defeat, remember:

Take a deep breath and do your best to see what you can take away from your experiences.  This approach can change your life in profound ways that venture far beyond the lap lane.  Embrace the hurt.  Embrace the growth.  Let tomorrow’s losses be different than yesterday’s, but always be prepared to learn… no matter what.

When it comes to winning, particularly in the real world, some people just happen to do it naturally.  Some people do it accidentally.  That’s just the way things work.

But when that medal has years of dirt caked onto it from all of the trial and error, there is no bitterness to that sweet taste of victory.  That’s as sweet as it gets.

Guy Behind The Desk

About Joseph Basante

Joseph Basante is the director and lead administrator at the Strive Swim Science Center in Moorestown, New Jersey – a private swimming training company. Until very recently, Joseph was not a swimmer, with no competitive swimming background, but spent most of his days watching swimmers come and go and come and go from his desk at the Strive Swim Science Center. So, he decided to take up the sport, late in life, aiming to enhance his fitness. Joseph shared his feelings after the beginning stages of his journey here.

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4 years ago

“You either win or you learn” I like that.

Big Fan
4 years ago

Great article!

Reply to  Big Fan
4 years ago

I liked it too.