I got a message the other day from a woman who had just competed in her second ever amateur kickboxing match. She felt she’d been mismatched against a heavier and much “better” opponent and the fight ended in a second round TKO. Despite acknowledging the advantages her opponent had on her and the feeling of the mismatch, she was embarrassed by the loss and felt she’d let her trainers down. She wanted to know if ever I’d experienced anything like this and how to cope with those feelings.
These are great questions because I think everyone has experienced that feeling of letting your trainers, coach, team, family and friends there to cheer you on – whoever, really – down by not performing the way you might have hoped. Sometimes it’s as simple as feeling that your performance didn’t live up to your training or even your capability. It’s a widely shared feeling, I’m sure. Unfortunately, the things that tend to make us feel this way after a fight don’t necessarily go away; but even if the feeling is not something you can control, you can control what you do with that feeling. This was my response:
I’ve felt that way with every single fight. I ALWAYS feel like I’ve let my trainers down, which I think says more about my own expectations than my actual performances. The fight before last I was surprised by an opponent who outweighed me by 13 kg, a few inches in height, and a lot of experience and skill to boot. Losing that fight shouldn’t have felt as bad as it did given all my disadvantages and my coach even almost pulled me from the ring before the fight because he knew how unfair it was. And I STILL felt like I’d let him down. Then with my most recent fight I went in against an opponent I beat the last time we fought and just got smashed – I lost every single round. I wasn’t able to do what my trainers were yelling at me from the corner, so it seemed like I wasn’t listening, which just made me feel horrid. And, my trainers make bets, so I literally cost them money when I lose, which is even more of an “I let you down” feeling.
But here’s the thing: your trainers (and my trainers) don’t put you in a situation they don’t think you can handle. And that is ALWAYS a compliment – they believe in you. When it’s not the right time or it doesn’t go your way or you don’t perform the way you wanted to, it shows them your limitations and that allows them to be better trainers for you, to work on those things. It’s diagnostic, not failure. The three times my trainers have actually not been disappointed in me AT ALL, like just a pat on the back and a “don’t worry about it Sylvie,” were three times I was terribly outclassed by my opponents and had no chance of winning at all. What that means is that trainers are only disappointed when they think it’s close, when there’s something you could have done to win that fight and you just didn’t quite get there. But even when they do show disappointment, it never, ever lasts as long as my own embarrassment and shame does. They forget within a day and just move on toward improving, fixing the problems they saw. You should do the same. Let it go.
It might sound like a downer, but I don’t know that the feeling of letting your trainers down ever goes away. But that’s because of the relationship you have with them, not because of what you are or aren’t doing. It’s like how training never gets easy – you just get better. Take it as a sign that your trainers believe in you. And what they want from you is that you try your best, which is actually one of the simplest ways to meet their expectations – just going hard and never giving up. When I ask my trainer, “what do you want me to do in this fight,” it’s never something I can’t do. It’s never something amazing that’s beyond my level. That’s what’s in MY head, not theirs. They just want me to leave it out there, and the fact that you come out of a loss feeling like you can do better means exactly that: you can work on it and next time do better. That’s a good thing.
If you are a fighter or are seriously training in Muay Thai (even if you’re just starting out) and have questions or want a sounding board for something you’re facing, please feel free to write to me and I’ll do my best. Women tend to be a little isolated in gyms around the world but the global community of female fighters is strong. I certainly have depended on a global community throughout my time in Muay Thai. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook: Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu – Muay Thai)