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The psychology of winning and losing

“Winning and losing is all part of the game”. This statement has held so much meaning in sports but is often not completely understood, to say the least.  But did you ever wonder why, people usually use this sentence when an individual loses a game rather than when they win? The answer lies in the deep psyche behind winning and losing in sports.


Both winning and losing are viewed as detrimental parts of life and can be observed in a variety of fields;  one field that projects light upon the importance of winning and losing more than the others is that of sports. The domain of sports looks into winning and losing as more than just outcomes of a game and also as experiences that shape the athletes’ overall career, mental health, and complete growth.  The psychological ideology behind this is merely that our emotions are highly driven by the thrill we experience as a result of winning and the pain we feel when we suffer from a defeat.

In a particular sport, possession of mental toughness and preparedness of the athlete is equally influential as physical talent and skills. They can frequently perform at a higher level and get over barriers more skillfully if they are psychologically prepared and confident. Ian Robertson, a psychology professor at Trinity College Dublin, in his book “ The Winner Effect” mentioned that the real excitement that one experiences as a result of winning has a neurological basis to it. He believed that winning leads to an increase in the testosterone level which causes there to be a rise in the dopamine levels, activating the reward network in the brain and making us happy. There is a type of soul satisfaction that victories bring to the table; other than the clear activation of the dopamine receptors, winning is also associated with positive behaviours. 


From the point of view of psychology, winning greatly improves an athlete’s confidence and sense of self. Their faith in their abilities is reinforced by winning, which confirms their preparation, hard work, and strategy. Furthermore, it offers guidance on managing the feelings and pressure that come with competing and how to turn these experiences into opportunities for development.  Motivation and drive are provided by winning; an athlete is more likely to put in the time and effort necessary to succeed when they are driven. Developing tactics to support athletes in maintaining their motivation even in the face of disappointment and setbacks requires an understanding of the relationship between motivation and performance. Most importantly, the sense of winning improves one’s reputation, fosters a sense of self-worth, and gives athletes a sense of community or belonging. 

On the other hand, what do you think is the psychological effect that losing has on people? It is no rocket science that psychologically, losing has a greater impact on the athlete than winning. When athletes lose a game, they are overwhelmed by extreme emotions and will eventually enter a never-ending overthinking continuum, starting to doubt every single step they’ve taken that has led up to their defeat. It in turn becomes emotionally taxing, putting their resiliency and mental toughness to the test. It leads to them experiencing a range of unpleasant feelings, such as sadness, frustration, and disappointment. Athletes devote a great deal of time and energy to achieving success, so losing feels like a personal failure and severely damages their self-worth.

It takes strong coping mechanisms and resilience-building exercises for athletes to handle the psychological effects of winning and losing in sports. Athletes who receive mental skills training, such as goal setting, visualization, and imagery, are better able to overcome obstacles and perform at their best. Athletes can achieve peak performance by implementing certain psychological strategies to strengthen their mental toughness; this could entail increasing their attention, motivation, and confidence by visualizing success and creating clear attainable goals. To add on, building a mindset for growth and having faith in the hard work and determination that they put in enables athletes to see failures as chances for personal improvement. 

The coaches and supporters of the athletes must encourage and appreciate them constantly while at the same time guiding them during times of loss. It is crucial to reward the effort that the athletes put in and also to push them to give their 100% when they play. Constructive feedback that you give them will help them understand their sport better and where they went wrong. Above all, reassure them that you will be there by their side both in times of victory and defeat.

About the Author

Sparsha Rai is pursuing her degree in psychology from NMIMS, Bombay. She originally hails from a small yet stunning city known as Mangalore located in the beautiful state of Karnataka.  She aspires to become a psychologist in the future and intends to be the best and most original version of herself

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