Losing sucks. What happened to the “undo” button?

By any name and in any form, losing is a drag. Our family experienced this yesterday, when my son’s water polo team lost a playoff match to a lower-seeded team — an opponent that, on another day, they probably would have defeated handily. Post-game analysis of why they lost might be useful to the younger players, but to the seniors, not so much. It was their last game together as varsity water polo teammates from their high school. This was not how they wanted to go out.


not loser sign - losing


Whether it’s a water polo playoff, a USTA match, or Nadal losing to the 100th-ranked Rosol at Wimbledon, losing never feels good — especially losing a match you know you should have won. My husband remarked to me on the way home, “I just wish we could rewind it.” I agreed. I woke up this morning thinking, if only they were playing the match today. But they aren’t. It’s over.

And that’s how losing goes. Sometimes we lose because of factors within our control. And the consequences for losing can be much greater than the outcome of a sports game. Which one of us hasn’t regretted something we said, something we did, a choice we made? And what if the stakes for our decisions were high — say, the loss of a friendship, a business deal, maybe even a marriage?


Where’s the “undo” button?

But sometimes losing just happens to us, and we have to endure. We give it our best shot, but we still can’t get into the desired school, or beat the cancer, or withstand betrayal by someone we love. As much as we’d like a “do-over,” that option isn’t available. The “undo” key is missing. Tomorrow may reveal silver linings, but right now, losing feels bad.


Undo1 -losing


Returning to my son’s loss yesterday: these are smart boys. They may be deeply disappointed, but each of them has a promising future — one that may or may not include water polo. Without a doubt, however, each young man will carry with him the memories of his team and the friendships they formed, and how they pushed themselves to achieve more together than they could have individually.


Losing (and winning) together, alone

Losing that game was difficult, but it was also an experience they went through together. I hope it will help each of them face inevitable losses they’ll have to go through alone as they move towards becoming adults.

I wish our boys’ season had ended differently. I wish they could rewind, undo the outcome. But yesterday was another team’s day to win, and ours to lose. While it was the seniors’ final varsity water polo game, it wasn’t any player’s last opportunity to compete, nor to collaborate with others on a team. Ahead in life, each of them faces more winning, and probably more losing.

Let the games begin!


Menlo School boys water polo. Photo by Cynthia Yock.

Photo by Cynthia Yock




  1. I have raised four daughters, one who went to two Olympics in one sport and is a world champion in a second, I’ve been to my share of athletic events for my children and was the world judo champion myself. Now at my more advanced age, I can look back in both my career and my children’s and realize that those losing experiences, painful as they were, shaped each of us to be the people we are.

    • You are so right! And the losses are easier to take as we get a bit of distance from them — they just hurt so much when they happen. We still do not speak about this game at our house. Just regard it as a tragic end to the season. But I know the learnings will endure.

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