Don't Be a Sore Loser: How to Handle Defeat

Handling defeat is never easy, but that doesn't mean you have to be a sore loser. Here's some tips to handle defeat with grace.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #399

Robert Green Ingersoll once said, “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” I love this quote because it teaches us that any real growth comes with having to face the sorrow of losing. After all, everyone will fail at something, but if you stick with it, your passion will get you through those hard times, which left you asking, “Why me?”

Folks, regardless of how cool, smart or “together” you think you are, everyone will be on the short end of the stick at least once in their life, and knowing how to handle defeat with your head held high and manners in tact is the surest sign of an evolved adult. So before you storm off, stomping your feet and waving your middle finger to flex your frustration, check out my top three quick and dirty tips for handling defeat (without being a sore loser):

Tip #1: The Sports Defeat

I may not be an Olympian, but in the sport of etiquette, I like to think of myself as a gold medal holder. So, when I watch the Olympics and see some of the world’s greatest athletes treat their opponents, countries, or the ethics of the Olympics itself as if they should be owed something, it leaves me with a rather bitter taste in my mouth. See, the beautiful thing about sports is it allows everyone a fair chance to compete for the same thing no matter their wealth, race, or age (well, unless someone is using performance-enhancing drugs). Bottom line: if you are the best at what you do, you’ll win. The Olympics is a chance for the beauty of sports to be showcased on a global stage, strictly focused on a mutual love of athletics and your opponent. At least that's the idea in theory. Turns out, not everyone is on the same playing field when it comes to being respectful over losing. For example, take the Egyptian judoka who broke the foundation of sports etiquette by refusing to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand after a defeat. Not a hug or even raising his opponents hand in victory, just shaking it. Easy. However, he showed the world that not everyone in the Olympics is a good sport, or a good person for that matter. Thankfully, his unmannerly blunder was made public for the world to see. Man, I love karma!

This athlete’s actions really bothered me not only as a manners guru, but as someone who believes sports should be a shining example of how to handle a defeat with class and dignity. It’s one thing to lose, but it’s another thing to lose gracefully. Again, I understand he was aggravated; he lost a fight to a country that he had a previous beef with. Yet he’s a professional and this is part of the game. Defeat is a tough pill to swallow in any form, but when you show disrespect too, it echoes through your sport’s community and will follow you for your entire career. Take this guy: he will forever be known as the Olympian who didn’t shake hands after a loss, and a great judoka second. Sorry if I think taking the high road tends to pay off more than being a jerk.

Tip #2: Defeat at Work

I'm not trying to pick on athletes, but sports is a job, and I like to think about athletes handling defeat when it comes to business. Take superstar quarterback Cam Newton who had a rather rough day at work when he lost Super Bowl 50, to the “office darling” Peyton Manning. Cam was so distraught he walked out of the post game press conference practically before it started. In fact, he didn’t even show up mentally. Not only did he pout like a child placed in time out but he left us with this now infamous bit of knowledge to display his poor sportsmanship, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Nice, right? That’s a great concept to teach kids; second is the first loser, losing makes you a failure, “real men” should be pissed after every loss. All the fine qualities that make a leader great, right? Now, if this was an office, do you think Cam would get another shot? Probably not. Yes, he had every right to be upset but as a leader—on a field or in an office —you can’t bury your head in every defeat as if the world owes you something. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, if you suffer a loss, you have to brush it off, and move on… even when it’s hard.