Go Beyond Excuses
By John F. Murray, PhD
There is a certain fire in the eyes of a player once he or she stops making excuses and starts taking full responsibility for their destiny. I’ll often tell a circuit pro player to not only “not make excuses” but to go beyond the excuse and pretend there are no excuses at all, even when some really legitimate ones might be apparent! This kind of attitude promotes toughening.
We all need to strive for that rare determined resolve that leaves no room for unnecessary fears, worries or hesitation. Players who take their performances to new dimensions of efficiency and excitement understand that the “excuse” has no place in the heart and mind of the warrior. Rather than unveiling a fancy new strategy, let’s just roll up our sleeves and remove the excuses and justifications which might make us feel better in the short-term, but offer no hope for long-term growth.
How often do your opponents leave the field offering multiple explanations for their loss? How does it feel if you just played your best game in months? Maybe you too have a habit of justifying your losses. The all too familiar script includes hot weather, tight cleats, injuries, lack of practice, poor fitness, opponents pulling shirts, bad calls by the ref, or just plain bad luck. Players at all levels in soccer engage in this blame game, but true champions reject this option and seek even greater responsibility for their actions and outcomes.
When mentally strong players lose, they accept defeat graciously the way Marcos Baghdatis did after his grueling 5 set loss to Andre Agassi at the Tennis US Open. Marcos could have justifiably complained about his severe muscle cramps in the 5th set, but you saw none of it. He was more determined than ever, hopping around like a wounded animal, but pumping his fist to his chest, and smiling throughout the final moments of the match! What a rare and amazing display of sportsmanship and inner resolve. He also fully credited Andre for the win without complaining.
Excuses and justifications abound after a loss. Players try to deflect social disapproval and the negative feelings surrounding poor outcomes by creating excuses. Excuses help reduce uneasiness and shift blame for a negative outcome to extenuating circumstances. This would be fine if it were adaptive, and it enhanced performance, but it clearly does not.
Excuses reduce apparent responsibility for negative outcomes, leaving the athlete with less perceived control over future events. With extenuating circumstances in control rather than the player, he or she often sets lower goals and reduces effort. With responsibility reduced, practices become less meaningful and confidence is harder to acquire. Sort of like being demoted from a higher to lower position at work, the player, or employee, might think “I have less responsibility now so I’m not going to try as hard.” We only hurt ourselves by taking on less responsibility for the good things we are seeking.
A close cousin to the excuse is the justification. In this case, players may downplay the negative meaning of a poor performance and even suggest that there are hidden benefits to performing poorly. For example, a good soccer player may assume that "it can’t get any worse than it is," and totally neglect to correct obvious flaws in performance that led to the loss. A player may also justify a loss or dismal showing to the fact that the other team had a “higher ranking or reputation.” A much more productive outlook is for the player to responsibly correct mistakes and realize how irrelevant ranking is.
There are few perfect weather days and many reasons indeed to explain performance and outcome. By taking full responsibility for your actions and the results of your actions, you set yourself up for success. Performance is yours to flash brilliantly or botch horribly. Rather than looking to save face after a loss, redirect your energies to finding a better solution next time. Here are some tips to help you eliminate the ifs, ands and buts from your vocabulary:
1. Allow your opponent to offer all the excuses and justifications possible, but do not say much. They remain in mediocrity, and we all know the saying about arguing with a fool! Bite your own lip following a tough loss, even if you know you can perform 100 times better. By concealing your areas of weakness, you are positioning yourself for a much better effort next time and assuming greater responsibility for performance. An honorable loss without excuses can often be better than a win in the long haul.
2. Always credit your opponent when you lose. They may bask in the temporary glory of their victory, but you will return with a renewed vigor to turn the tables. Offering excuses will just fuel your opponent’s motivation for the rematch. Keep your opponents clueless about your intense desire to reverse this tough loss.
3. Never offer too many explanations for match outcome. Your emotions are often high and you might say things you would not in a more rational state. It’s wise to cool down, reflect on what happened, and quietly prepare an improved strategy for the next time.
By being fully responsible for your actions and outcomes, and eliminating excuses and justifications, you are taking the narrow path from which true improvement and growth emerges. You are hereby promoted to a higher mental standing. Take full advantage of it in your next game!