The Problem with Letting Wins Define Your Self Worth

Competition naturally brings on a count of wins versus losses, who beat who, and how many teams were made when you competed at an elite level. None of this is inherently bad, until we start letting those elements define our self worth. We have all heard stories from past athletes, no matter what level they competed at, of the lessons from sport which have carried over into their careers and personal lives. This happens for a reason, and they share these stories because they are proud of the characteristics sport has given them. They discover that the wins and losses have faded from memory, and they have reaped the benefits of resiliency and determination. It helped them become successful people in life. The athletes who stepped away from sport with a sour taste in their mouth often leave because they focused too much on the wins or losses. They never saw the lessons sport had to give, and often have a harder time adapting to what life throws at them.

It can be a dangerous game when winning is the reason you continue playing a sport. The only person you can gamble on is yourself, and if your self worth is wrapped up in how you perform, you will often come out the loser. I have certainly fallen in the trap of believing that one win will change it all for me. If I just won this match, my confidence would change and I would feel like a whole different person. Or I'd believe that everyone would finally see my potential and all the hard work would be justified. I often felt ashamed if I lost a match I felt I shouldn't have, and believed that I would be seen differently by my peers. This was no way to ensure longevity for myself mentally or emotionally in a sport that I loved.

Looking back on the times I competed to win versus competing for the love of the challenge, I wish I could have seen how much the fear of losing was holding me back. Ask yourself, do the values you hold as a person also align with your reasons for competing in sport? I mentioned before, I value the love of the challenge. But that value was not focused on challenging myself to win a certain way or to win in general. I challenged myself to stay in each moment, to notice my emotions and let them pass, and even just showing up to competition were my accomplishments. It takes bravery for each of those challenges to be met, and you’re not the bravest in the room by winning a tournament.

It's not a bad thing to have pressure or to have a goal of winning. It helps motivate, push, and strive for improvement. But creating an environment where all that matters is the win, creates a breeding ground for negative self worth if that goal is not met. If we are obsessing over a win/loss record and allow that to dictate the energy we take to practice, we are hindering more than helping.

Progression is measured by more than just the win or the loss. If you've lost to the same person twice, but the first time you were pinned and the second time you lost by one point, you can't describe those scenarios as the same. The same logic pertains to with winning a close match, and then winning by a technical fall the second time around. Tiny gains are often seen only by those looking closely. The people who are paying attention are the ones who matter. Those are going to be your team of supporters who are working to help progress your skill set. The ones who are paying attention to your record are most likely not in tune with your long term goals.  

You will always be your harshest critic. Create an environment for yourself that is rich in searching for answers, and gentle on your psyche. Being a wrestler cannot only be defined by who you have beaten or how many have fallen before you. That once you reach a certain number of wins, that you will finally be a worthy competitor. You can strive for a goal of 100 wins, but let that goal of 100 wins be something to strive for, not a new way to critique yourself if it's not reached. You are still worthy if you win, you are still worthy if you lose. You are a great competitor because you challenged yourself and were brave enough to show up and step on the mat.