Originally published in VolleyballUSA, winter 2017-18

In his years as a player and a coach, Kiraly says losing has shaped him – even more than winning. He knows as well as anyone that while no one is ever happy after a devastating loss, it’s what a player chooses to do with that loss that separates the good ones from the great ones.

“People are going to feel what they’re going to feel, and we’ve got to use that and harness it,” he says. “We need to learn from what happened. Failure is only feedback, and we use that pain or anger to better ourselves the next chance we get.”

Kiraly vividly remembers the “soul-crushing” loss his team faced in the 2016 Olympics. The U.S. Women had been in a great position but ended up losing in the semifinal match against Serbia.

What do you do when you get back in the locker room after a loss like that? For Kiraly, the only thing there is to do is move forward.

“Our approach was, first of all, to acknowledge how painful it was,” he says. “Everyone was in deep pain, whether it was one of our 12 players or our staff. We gave people time to process on their own, and then we came back together. When we came back together, we thought about all of the bitter and angry places that we could go but wouldn’t go because that’s not us. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves or get angry and let that anger cloud us for our next chance. All of those poor responses are things we would have done if we were weaker.”

Don’t play the blame game

Sports are as much a mental battle as a physical one. In our outcome-oriented culture, we often ask why we lost but not why we won, says Andrea Becker, a sport psychologist who has worked with the U.S. Men’s National Team. The difference in a match might only be a couple of points, but if those points go our way, we are celebrating. If not, we feel we have come up short and begin seeking answers.

“One of the toughest things about losing is that you’re not meeting an expectation,” Becker says. “And when you’re not meeting an expectation, you typically search for reasons why that is. A lot of athletes blame themselves, and blame is a tough emotion to work with.”

Becker notes that there is a fine line between blame and accountability. Even statements laced with negative connotations are often labeled as “accountability.”


“If you tell a teammate, ‘You should have gotten that ball; I’m holding you accountable,’ what you’re really saying is, ‘We lost that point and it’s your fault.’ When the teammate who misses the ball feels guilty and then the teammate reinforces the guilt, they don’t let go of the mistake. But if they make a mistake and feel guilty and a teammate comes over and says, ‘Hey, next point! We got you! We need you! Dial up your focus!’ – that helps them move forward beyond what happened in the past.”


Which direction it goes – guilt or ‘We got your back’ – often comes down to the leadership that’s in place on the team, whether it’s the coach, a team captain or a leadership committee. Those leaders determine how players react to mistakes as well as determining how a team responds to a loss.

“When a leader is supportive rather than blame-driven, they allow for mistakes, they allow their teammates to play freely and not be intimidated by them,” Becker says. “I think that’s a big part of dealing with losses.”

Kiraly recalls the speech his team captain, Christa Dietzen, gave after the loss to Serbia in the Rio Olympics. He explains that it was her positive leadership and determination to move forward that motivated his team.

“She said ‘This one loss doesn’t define us. We are bigger than one loss or one win. We are fortunate to have another chance,’” Kiraly says. “That’s exactly what we needed to hear.”


At Laguna Volleyball Academy (LAVBA) Our mission is to discover and strengthen the physical and mental skills of the athlete through the development of sports discipline and the techniques necessary to bring their ability to play to the next level. The basic fundamentals are essential in the development of the game, for this reason applying the correct technique in these fundamentals will make the athlete enjoy the complete game, which will create individual opportunities for each player to maximize their potential That lead you to achieve your sporting goals in the short, medium and long term.

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