10 Jul 2024

Winning Well

This has been a truly competitive summer. Not only have we been transfixed by our own UK general election, but all over the world an unprecedentedly high number of democracies have gone to the polls in 2024. Sports – from tennis and Euros football to the upcoming Olympic Games – are taking centre stage this summer, gobbling up news slots and airtime and attracting exuberant partisanship and support. At the other end of our spectrum, it is nearly the end of term, and our children are caught up in their own sports days and competitions, vital early training in the art of winning and losing.

All this competitiveness and striving for success puts winners and losers in the spotlight. We are taught from an early age about the essentials of losing graciously – the brave smile, the generous tribute to the winner, the dignified exit. But what about winning well? We’ve all seen examples of how it should not be done – gloating triumphalism, disdain for the loser, a lack of generosity when it comes to applauding their achievements. So how do you go about winning well?

1.  Thank your opponent
It is important to acknowledge the time, energy and commitment that your opponent has put into competing with you. After all, without that input, you would not be celebrating your victory and all contents are dependent on dedicated participation. Thanking your opponent is an elegant way of endorsing the importance and legitimacy of the contest.

2. Thank your friends and supporters
Most winners have achieved victory on a tidal wave of support. Whether it is the back-breaking hours of campaigning and volunteering that have helped usher a political candidate to victory, or the professionalism and commitment of trainers and coaches who have helped their protegees achieve sporting gold, victors require assistance, and this must be acknowledged as effusively as possible.

As well as dedicated helpers, it is also important to thank the support of the wider public, whether it is voters in a constituency or the thousands of dedicated fans who travel great distances and spend large sums of money to cheer on their sporting heroes.

Above all, it is vital to thank friends and family; they have lived through the battle, and their loyalty and enthusiasm is a vital prop to all competitors. Their contribution should never be overlooked or underestimated.

3. Pay tribute to the losing party
You must always find something positive to say about the losers. This is straightforward if you have lost by the slimmest of margins – ruefully acknowledging that the battle was close-fought and could have gone either way makes it clear that you both respect, and fear, your opponent, and you will no doubt find it easy to single out their strengths and commend their performance.

But even if you have trounced an opponent whom you despise or disdain, it is still important to find something positive to say about them and rise above your own feelings of justified triumphalism. Praising their conviction or tenacity is often a good way of masking your negative feelings.

4. Be humble
Never let the sheer joy of victory turn into bragging or gloating. You may feel overwhelmed with feelings of superiority but putting them on display will turn onlookers off. It‘s fine to be proud of your achievements, but revelling in obvious delight at your opponent‘s loss is very unattractive.

5.  Ignore sore losers
Sometimes, when feelings are running high, losers are not able to control their emotions and behave with becoming magnanimity. They might even throw a tantrum or lash out at you with personal insults and negativity. In these circumstances, it is important to stand by and allow them to let off steam. By rising above their anger, you will look calm and dignified. Remind yourself that, however unpleasant the loser’s outburst, you are the winner and you have achieved your goal – don’t let the loser’s bitterness taint your triumph.

6. Don’t fixate on vindication
Some victories occur against the odds: you have been predicted to lose, commentators have rated your chances at zero, you have been dismissed out of hand. Or maybe you are competing against a firm favourite, and you have had to struggle against a partisan crowd and ignore the taunts of hecklers and abusers.

In these circumstances it is tempting, when you finally prevail, to focus on your own sense of vindication. You might feel an overwhelming urge to berate your audience of detractors, sullying your victory speech with “I told you so” gloating. Hard as it is, it is always better to put these feelings behind you and focus on the positive aspects of winning, as outlined above. That way, you will earn the grudging respect of your erstwhile critics.

And finally...
Winning is delightful and nobody should begrudge winners the opportunity to celebrate with friends and supporters. But beware complacency and resting on your laurels and always remember that, in most circumstances, a victory is a stage in a journey, rather than an ultimate goal. Top athletes who reach the pinnacle of their aspirations feel driven to strive for greater and greater achievements and record-breaking wins. Politicians are also aware that even a resounding win at the polls is only the beginning of the story; the hard work starts here…


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