2 Things Successful People Say When They Lose (And How They Improve)

Learn more about developing a winning attitude and the will to improve.


Football season is in full swing and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t have the time to sit in front of the TV and watch a lot of games, but I do love to watch the drama and strategy play out. I love to watch the dynamic of the teams as they plummet or improve.

I especially love pre-game and post-game interviews. Players and coaches reveal a lot about their mindset in those moments.

In fact, I’ve watched so many of them, I can generally predict early in the season which losing teams are going to keep on losing and which are going to turn it around—just by what the coaches say about their losses.

Holding a trophy in victory | The will to improve

The two phrases or ideas I listen for in post-game interviews are the same two anybody can use to pick the eventual winners out of a group of losers.

You can use them when you’re evaluating your team members, choosing a business partner, interviewing a job candidate, or any other time you’re trying to determine if somebody has the right attitude to win.

Forbes contributor, Terina Allen, states that “Successful people don’t define failure as the opposite of success; they define failure as the opposite of trying.”

I’ll share with you the underlying component: Having the perception to recognize there’s room to improve, and the will to improve.


1. “We lost because we weren’t good enough to win.”


This is a fundamental truth. If they didn’t win, it’s because on that day they weren’t good enough to win—either physically or mentally.

Winners bite the bullet and accept this fact. They don’t blame circumstances. They don’t shirk accountability. Pump yourself up! Be at your best! Find another gear! Let’s go! You are working for yourself and your family!

Coaches of teams that are going to keep losing throughout the season say things like, “We’ve got two of our best players out because of injuries,” or “The calls on the field weren’t in our favor today,” or “Playing in the snow when it’s 23 degrees makes the players’ job pretty difficult.” 

Man with a ball and chain

Generally, the things that affect one team during a game affect both of them. Calls go one way and then another. Most teams have players out due to injury. 

Everybody is playing on the same field—and it’s pretty level, all things considered. Yes, sometimes, the odds are tilted in one team’s favor by circumstances beyond either team’s control, but that can change minute by minute, play by play. 

In the end, and certainly over a few games, it’s a wash.

Generally in life, everybody has an equal shot, as long as they’re willing to put in the effort and preparation it takes to succeed.

That’s a fact. The people who accept it, win a lot more than the people who look for excuses. If the losing team had developed all the necessary pieces of success, they would have succeeded, in spite of the problems they faced.

“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.” Michelle Obama.

2. “We’re going to continue to improve. When we get good enough, we’ll start winning.”


Letters spelling out "Motivation." Sentiment to improve.

Another fact. 

You don’t win by going for good. You win when you go for great.

Rather than whining or wailing about whatever it is that’s holding them back, winners move right on to what they can do to increase their odds. And what they can do is: improve. 

Winners improve to the point that when challenges crop up, they’re capable of handling them without losing ground. Click To Tweet

If you improve enough, it won’t matter that a few things don’t go your way.

It won’t matter if your quarterback gets injured in the third quarter, or the referee doesn’t seem to like your team, or it snowed the whole game and your team is from Florida. You’ll win anyway.

Winners improve to the point that when challenges crop up, they’re capable of handling them without losing ground.

Your attitude when overcoming obstacles determines whether you’ll win in the future and win consistently. If you let your emotions overwhelm you into blaming behavior, you’ll miss the learning opportunity in front of you. 

Facing up to the facts can be difficult, but if you don’t you won’t be able to manage yourself forward to your next win. The next time you lose (and you will), remember:  Acknowledge the facts and use them to guide what you do next.

While failure is never wanted, it is sometimes needed. That failure is then generally appreciated by those who realize it was needed for their own growth.

Even the most successful leaders can have a blindside.

Even the most successful leaders can have a blindside. Click To Tweet

Winning comes from doing enough of the right things to get the job done. It doesn’t mean that when someone wins or succeeds they were perfect. It means they did enough of the right things required to get the job done. 

Even some of the most successful people, coaches, and leaders can fall victim to bad thinking from time to time. Those leaders and your business will be reflections of you.

It can be because they simply don’t have all the facts, or they do have the facts but they don’t want to face them.

But the thing is that in life, reality is the greatest teacher. And if you deny reality and keep doing the same things that got you beat before, you’re probably going to get beat again. You have to improve.

In the history of the Super Bowl, there is a gold line of lessons about winning and losing. One of those that I will never forget is the story of the Buffalo Bills going to the Super Bowl four times in a row.

A Gold Trophy | Improve

What I’m talking about is the fact that they have the distinction of being the only team to advance to four consecutive Super Bowls between 1990 and 1993, but also the dubious distinction of losing all four of them. Their coach was the brilliant and highly successful Marv Levy. He was extremely accomplished and even had a degree from Harvard University. 

He was obviously super successful and a masterful coach, otherwise he could have not gotten his team to the Super Bowl four years in a row . . .  because no other coach ever accomplished that achievement. However, although he was obviously a brilliant coach, he only had a loss record of 143–112 with a winning percentage of 561 over 255 games. That’s reality. 

His teams over his career just averaged only one slightly better than average.

In spite of all of the trips to the Super Bowl, it suggests that possibly, despite his brilliance and experience, Coach Levy had a blindside in at least one aspect of how he evaluated defeat.

I can still remember the interviews they had on-camera with him after each one of those four losses. They reveal that, although he was definitely a winner and an inspirational leader, there’s room to assume something was missing.

The reaction I had after every one of those interviews was the same—he’s making excuses. He’s in denial because he’s blaming the loss on everything except him and his team. 

He never once said, “We got beat by the better team.” He never said, “We weren’t good enough—we’re going to have to get better.” There was always some other excuse. 

A Team Holding a Trophy

Those of you old enough to remember those games will recall in one game, Thurman Thomas, their star running back, misplaced his helmet on the sidelines before the game and couldn’t start . . . and that got them off to a rocky start.

Coach Levy even referred to that—got off to a bad start, couldn’t settle down—it was always something. The referee made a bad call. I can’t remember all the excuses now, but I’m sure they’re on YouTube. 

It was never about how his team could improve.

The point is in every game these things happen, but the winner will be the person that overcomes them and wins anyway.

Every team that’s ever played has had dozens of things go against them over the course of the game, yet the one holding the trophy at the end is the one that overcame them.

The people with that kind of mental toughness are not the perfect ones, are not the ones who have all the answers, but they are the ones that take responsibility for what happens to them.

They are the ones who say when they get beat: I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to improve. I wasn’t good enough that time, but I’ll do everything in my power to be good enough next time. And then, they go out and make the changes necessary to reposition themselves. 

To overcome problems, face them and win.

Keep yourself honest when you get beat. Don’t take the easy way out, or you’re not going to wind up taking the steps you need to turn things around and get yourself in the winning column more consistently. 

In what ways will you seek to improve?


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