The Agony Of Victory And The Thrill Of Defeat


“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

I might be dating myself here, but children of the sixties, seventies, even eighties might remember ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which opened with a montage of athletic icons and voice over by the show’s host, Jim McKay. The catchphrase “thrill of victory” is often repeated even today. While I enjoy victory as much as anyone, I sometimes wonder if the reverse can be true. When is victory an agony? And while defeat may not be a thrill, can it be valuable?

My son plays soccer. When he was 12, his team won the State Championship for their division. The kids were rightfully elated with their hard-won victory. The parents were excited and proud, too, but I watched as we realized that winning meant a trip from North Carolina to Texas with no easy way to get there. They went on to win Regionals in Texas, which meant another trip from North Carolina to Oklahoma for Nationals, this time in July. By the end of summer, winning became expensive for the parents and less fun for the kids as they realized their school break was nearly over and it was already time to start practice with their new soccer teams. While the victories were fun, it took a toll on the kids as well as my pocket book.

As we trekked from game to game and state to state, I began to ask myself if my son’s situation was reflected in my life at work as well. When does the constant need to win become detrimental to the organization? Years ago, my team at work was in a push to get a batch of proposals out the door. To our surprise, we won more work than we could support. Our string of victories lost their thrill as we worked nights and weekends to keep our commitments. On a more personal note, have you ever pursued an argument at work, or even at home, with the sole objective to win? This habit is detrimental to the culture of the organization. When winning is valued over integrity, trust, and relationships, victory may be more associated with agony than a thrill.

These questions forced me to consider the alternative…is losing always bad? We’re trained to think of a loss as failure, but failure and disappointment allow us to learn valuable lessons to help us move forward, stronger and more focused than before. DC Gonzalez, author of The Art of Mental Training – a Guide to Performance Excellence, notes, “Within every setback lies the hidden opportunity for a great comeback.”

While I would never discourage pursuit of a winning culture, I encourage you to keep this question in mind: How do you define victory and what is its cost? Furthermore, embrace defeat for the valuable lesson it can be. Celebrate victory with humility, honor defeat with a compelling comeback, and CEEK A Better Way®.

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