I hate losing. I never handled it well. I’ll probably always hate it, but I’m coming to understand what an incredible teacher it is for players, coaches, and parents. Instead of making you cynical, instead of making you a quitter, losing can develop in you and your team a powerful set of characteristics that serve you well on and off the field.

I’ve never met an individual or seen a team that won every time. Losing is going to happen. What’s going to happen to you when it happens?

Here are 6 ways to lose well:

1. Hold nothing back. If something no longer requires your best, or if you’re no longer willing to give your best, it’s time to find a different level of challenge or to quit. If you’re going to coach, give your players the best you have, every time. If you’re going to play, your coaches and teammates deserve your maximum effort and focus. When you compete, refuse to be the guy who gave less than 100% (we’ve all done it). Here’s the truth: those who hold something back find excuses and scapegoats easily. In reality, they didn’t practice, play, or coach with all they had.

2. Make no excuses and look for no scapegoats. Losing a game provides the opportunity to find every excuse and scapegoat. Here’s the deal: the umpires, weather, field conditions, rules, etc. didn’t lose the game. Your team did. End of story. “We lost.” “We weren’t good enough today.” That’s much better (and more realistic) than “if the umpire…if the weather…if the rules…” Losing hurts and human nature looks for a way to soften it. If there’s an excuse or scapegoat to be found, losing feels a little better. But that doesn’t actually make you better. What makes you better is to identify why the other team is better and then move on to # 6…

3. Congratulate your opponent, and mean it. They’re feeling good. You’re hurting. It’s the resulting jealousy that creates “sore” losers. But, if you held nothing back (# 1) and are making no excuses (# 2), then you can honestly say “good game, congratulations” and mean it. In truth, we are all inherently envious of those who win all the time. Fight that envy. Even if they aren’t gracious winners, congratulate them. It will set you free from jealousy and bitterness. Those things will destroy you in sports and, more importantly, in life.

4. Feel it, but not for long. When you lose something that matters, you should feel it. There should be emotions. After all, you care. So, when you lose, be emotional, but don’t let it linger. At some point, the sting of losing needs to motivate you to go after it again.

5. Let it be about the team, not just you. “I lost this game for us.” No, you didn’t. No one is good enough to win or lose a team game on your own. Claiming otherwise is the pinnacle of arrogance.

6. Get back to work. Identify the reasons (not excuses) for the loss and work to improve. Your reasons might include the fact that another team is bigger and stronger, more experienced, more skilled, etc. If so, make a plan to address those deficiencies in yourself and your team. Here’s a tip: one good practice or even a good week of practice won’t overcome everything. It takes months and years in some cases. Those who will endure the work of months and years eventually separate themselves.

Losing is part of life. It’s certainly part of sports. But, the lessons learned in sports can prepare us for the difficulty of hardship and loss in life. By losing well in sports we learn to give it all we have, make no excuses, work hard, express emotions, humility, and to celebrate the victories of others. Sure, we would all like to win all the time. But some lessons can only be learned when the scoreboard isn’t in your favor.