Have you ever apologized after a loss? If so, stop it.
I’m not talking about the extreme situations here where you do something foolish that causes a loss — failing to prepare properly, or making a huge mistake ignoring your coach’s advice during the match. If you do those things, go ahead and say you’re sorry.
That’s not usually what happens, though. Most often we lose because we had a tough matchup, or because we’re learning and growing and ran into a situation where we didn’t know the right thing to do.
Mostly, I’m talking to myself here: I used to apologize when I got knocked out of tournaments. I used to feel like I’d let my teammates, coach and training partners down if I lost.
This is very different from my perspective now. I have begun think of tournament competitions as just an extension of training: instead of training with the people I roll with everyday, I’m putting myself in a different situation with an opponent whose techniques are unknown. This is an extremely valuable training experience, since you aren’t going to know if your opponent wrestled, did judo or anything else.
Changing this viewpoint took me a long time. The impulse to say “sorry” is understandable: your instructor and training partners put a ton of energy, sweat and bodily risk into helping you prepare. You want to run strong for them.
But I came to realize that it misses the point: it misses the process, the journey. It misses what makes you proud about your gym and teammates. When I sat down and thought about what makes me proud of my instructor and teammates, competitive success barely made the list.
I’m proud of the way we support each other. I’m proud of the way nobody lets anybody else quit during a hard workout. I’m proud of my friends’ competitive achievements, yes, but I’m just as impressed by the grinders that show up and train every day even though they haven’t had tournament success — maybe even more so. I’m proud that, like any family, we sometimes bicker but we get over it and keep helping each other get better.
What’s a medal compared to that? What’s a great day at a tournament — even the best day — compared to years of that shared experience?
A loss might end a tournament for you. It might sting. It should sting: if you’re preparing right, you’ve put a ton of effort into the experience. That tiny part of your jiu-jitsu journey might end in that painful fashion.
But a loss won’t stop your gym, and a loss won’t stop you. The journey goes on. The effort you put into training, the work you put in and the sacrifices you made don’t go away. They’re the ingredients that have made you improve, at jiu-jitsu and at life.
The process is the big picture. Think of a tournament as just part of training, a necessary but impermanent part of your permanent, day-to-day practice.
So go out there and win every match if you can. But if you lose, you don’t owe me, or your teammates — or anyone — an apology. You don’t owe anyone anything but, where applicable: “thanks for helping me out: see you in the gym tomorrow.”