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Shooting for the Gold and Dealing with the Agony of Defeat

The last few weeks have been BIG for sport enthusiasts with the 2022 Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl. These athletes are the best of the best and their talent, commitment, and dedication to their sport and performance is amazing to witness as an armchair referee and sideline coach.

Competitive activities, from sports to clubs, involves about 78-87% of the national high school student body population according to the Urban Institute. There are nearly 80,000 student athletes in the state of Nebraska, and nationally, 55.55% of all high school students participate in a sport. According to the Aspen Institute of Sports & Society Program, 36.9% of youth ages 6-12 participate in team sports. There are also countless adults participating in sport leagues and teams. It is fair to say, a vast majority of individuals enjoy participating in a sport or activity and are motivated by competition. 

Not every participant can be the winner; at some point, most athletes’ dreams of victory are crushed, and they must deal with the “agony of defeat”. As competitors come to grip with the loss, they reflect on their performance, digest feedback from coaches and teammates, often face negative reactions from fans, and deal with their humanness. This sounds a lot like life; having to deal with consequences of not getting one’s desired outcome. Losing is tough, even the non-athlete must learn to deal with disappointment and loss in similar ways to an athletic competitor.

How does the athlete become a gracious loser? With practice and purpose. According to Wiki How, an individual needs to: 1. let go, 2. lose with grace, and 3. move forward. Often an athlete is not able to navigate these 3 steps alone. It is good to lay the foundation prior to the competition by providing a mentor to assist and provide effective tools. Most coaches agree that feedback should be postponed 24 hours after the event. This allows the individual to become aware of their emotions and reflect on their actions of what they did correctly and what went wrong. A coach can help the athlete get perspective by owning mistakes, not blaming themselves, as well as deflecting others criticism. Most athletes will agree that improving and learning from their mistakes is often their biggest achievement. 

One of the most heartwarming things to witness with the Olympics is the medal ceremony as all the pride and hard work is summed up as the athlete beams with joy when they receive their medal and listen to their prospective countries anthem. This year, amidst all the overcoming of obstacles that COVID-19 could provide, it has also been so special seeing the competitors consoling and congratulating each other after an event where they were going all-out to win against the other athlete moments prior to the finish of the race. Solidarity in competition and human kindness.


Colleen Eusterwiemann, Suicide Pre & Postvention Coordinator for The Kim Foundation

Colleen earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Sociology from Northwest Missouri State University and her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Colleen has previous experience working for local non-profits focusing on consulting, coordinating, planning, and providing direct care. Colleen joined The Kim Foundation in January of 2022.