Last Monday morning, my Chicago Bears lost by a single point—after failing to score in the very last play of the first NFL playoff game they’ve been to in a long, long time.
Needless to say, it was a tough moment. The overwhelming sadness felt by Bears fans, especially in the city of Chicago, was palpable. Prior to this, the team had been going through a dreadful rebuilding phase, and this was the year fortunes should have been turned around. Now those hopes were dashed by a double doink.
All the emotion that had swelled from such a crucial moment is the reason why I try to avoid watching sports live, especially if I’m invested in the team. It’s easy to get caught up in a ball of feelings, ever-growing as the game clock ticks on and the scoreboard fluctuates—and if the game ends in the other team’s favor, those feelings can be overwhelming. You end up just wanting to punch something (which, we hope, isn’t another person).
So because there will always be a loser in any sport, and there will always be hurt feelings that come with being one, here’s a quick guide to handling losing—if not with grace, then with as little hostility as possible.
1. Don’t take your anger out on anyone.
Yes, it’s really, really tempting. It tempts even the best of us. But don’t.
Not only does it make you an asshole, but it also makes you look incredibly immature that you are not above treating people nicely despite this. You’re free to mope a little, express your sadness that your team did not win, but never under any circumstances take it out on anyone, especially fans of the winning team. It’s just good manners, man.
2. Remember that it’s not the end.
Sometimes it’s the end of the season, yes. This is especially tougher to stomach in postseason games, when a lot more is on the line—it takes a real adult to swallow all that pride you’ve built up in the course of a great run. But never, ever forget that this won’t be the last game your team will play in its entire history. You made it this far! For as long as you are still breathing, there’s always a next game, a next season for them to make the necessary changes, do better, and possibly win. It’s all a matter of perspective: the world will turn, the team will play again and win, and you will move on after this terrible loss. Everyone does.
3. Remember it’s really a chance for the team to make changes.
This is even better if you’re losing from a high place, like the Bears did—it means there were many things that went right, and there isn’t much that needs to change in order to do better next time.
The fact is most teams realize this concept, if they’re worth their salt; and some fans, too, if they’re aware of tanking in leagues where there is an annual rookie draft. For many in sports, losing is just another way of getting better for the next time around. You shouldn’t feel bad, because you never know what’s coming around the corner.
4. Don’t take it personally.
Why should you? You’re not the one who decided on your team’s roster. You’re not the coach who called plays on the field. You’re not the player who failed to make the most important play of the day. (You’re also not the kicker who hit the uprights.)
It’s perfectly fine to feel disappointed, and even a little heartbroken, but never feel that it’s more than secondhand embarrassment. The only people who are allowed to really feel bad about it are those directly involved in the loss. It’s not a slight against your very being—you’re just a fan who supports this team from the stands, the sports bar, or at home.
5. Don’t obsess over what you would have done.
Because unless you are a coach or a former player—and let’s be honest, many of you reading this article are not—you don’t really have the kind of expertise to workshop the team like that. No one is more annoying than the armchair coach, especially after coming from a tough loss.
6. Cope instead.
Yes, if you were looking for an excuse to drink or eat a little, this is it. You go right ahead. Indulging yourself is a much better idea than taking out negativity on your fellowman. But don’t overdo it. (It’s for your sake, too.)
Do whatever you got to do in order to feel better, then move right along and look forward to the next game. If there’s anything that’s true in sports—as with all things in life—it’s that it’s a cycle that will always have its ups and downs. And when you fix your perspective to this important fact, you’ll be graciously handling your team’s losses in no time.