HomeSportSchool of sport: The default settingof defeat

School of sport: The default settingof defeat


‘FAWLTY Towers’ was a hugely successful sitcom programme in the UK in the 1970s centred on an hotel owner who was aggressive, argumentative, snobbish, incompetent, highly-strung, rude, played by the tall, gangly John Cleese.

The basic format of each 30-minute episode was that if something could go wrong, it would go wrong, symbolised at the start of each episode by the letters of the hotel sign being changed by a local youngster to read such things as Flowery Twats, Watery Fowls and Fatty Owls. The default setting was always in effect ‘defeat’.

The comedy lay in how the central character, Basil Fawlty, responded to all the chronic situations that arose almost by default, while the truth is that Basil Fawlty’s fault was he was completely in the wrong setting as a hotelier. His default setting set him up for constant defeat.

In another era, Nebuchadnezzar was a hugely successful but dangerously tyrannical king during the sixth century BC, who is most known for destroying Jerusalem and leading many Hebrews into captivity in Babylon.

He was the symbol of tremendous power and prosperity with a default setting of showing little mercy or regard for any of his subjects. He even erected a statue of himself standing at over thirty metres tall, having had a dream of a statue with its head being “made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.”

Even he, the great conquering hero, victor of many battles, had feet of clay, a fundamental flaw, which was in believing that if anything could go right for him, it would go right. His defeat came through his own default setting. At the end of his reign, following defeat, he realised he only had feet of clay. He had to learn to start and stand again on those two feet.

Basil Fawlty and King Nebuchadnezzar are worlds and centuries apart yet both speak of defeat and default, an experience that is common to all of us who share in sport. For many, defeat becomes the default setting, with one defeat leading to another and yet another.

Defeat becomes a habit, a mindset, one that means that we have lost before we have even started. We have to realise, and educate the youngsters we coach, that to accept defeat as our default setting is a serious fault. Usually in defeat we seek to lay the fault at the feet of others (albeit feet of clay) instead of accepting the reasons behind our defeat and changing them.

Indeed, in defeat it is not that we have lost a match that is the problem; it is the fact that we lose hope, confidence, courage, strength, joy, perspective, reason, sight and ultimately opportunity in such an event.

When we lose such assets, then we have a problem. Yet we do not need to lose them, even in defeat. We must change our default setting. We cannot change the result of the match but we can change our response; we can regain hope, confidence, courage, strength, joy and more.

We can change our default setting from the defeat mentality by understanding what defeat is.

Defeat is only a fault, a temporary setback, and just as in tennis when a ‘fault’ is called we have another chance. We need to reset our default setting, not least by recognising that our worth or value is never determined by defeat or victory. Nebuchadnezzar made the mistake of making that his default setting and it was not just his statue that came crashing down – his greatest feat then was that he did manage to get on his feet again.

Fortunately for Basil Fawlty, his numerous faults did not keep him from trying again.

Changing our defeat mentality will become our greatest feat. Our fault does not lie in our being defeated; our fault lies in making defeat our default setting.

The good news is that we can change the ‘defeat’ default setting and use it to make us better people (even the successful King Nebuchadnezzar had to learn to be humble and recognise where his great achievements, power and wealth came from). We as educators, coaches and parents alike, can help our children get back on their feet. Our feet are what we stand on and what we move on.

So defeat is our starting point, firstly to stand and secondly to move on again. Then we can start dreaming of glory. If we do not do so, then we are failing to fulfil our obligation; that is when we default and find defeat again.

In short, the only default setting for defeat is at the end of de legs – nowhere else.

  • Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools Email:

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