I’m a candlepin bowler, on an unusual career path: I was very active as a youth bowler, then drifted away from the sport after high school and bowled only sporadically for most of my adult life, until I decided, at the age of 43, to return to bowling as an intensive competitor and see how much I could accomplish at this stage of life. At 50, I’m bowling better than ever before – and much of the credit has to go to the principles detailed in Josh’s book.
The first two chapters, Innocent Moves and Losing to Win, speak to my experiences with instructors, my approach to learning, and the way I handle adversity in competitive situations.
CHAPTER 1: INNOCENT MOVES
My bowling coach has a saying that identifies him as an incremental learning theorist: “You’ll get almost as good as you want to!” I love that, because it means there’s no limit to how much you can improve, if you just keep raising the bar. That’s what he does for me, when I see him for a lesson. He has a higher opinion of me than I have of myself, and he totally embraces the incremental theory of learning. This helps me to understand that I can get better and better, even at 50, if I want it badly enough to put in the work.
One of the questions in the Study Guide to TAOL asks, “Do you think you are emotionally prepared for both wins and losses?”
I often get my best results when I come into a tournament feeling a little bit tired or sick, possibly because my low expectations on those occasions make it easier to just be present and throw the ball. But I’m not sure that I’m emotionally prepared for wins and losses. When I lose, I always try to come away with some knowledge that will help me next time – but this does not always happen. Sometimes I’m not prepared for a win, either. Several years ago, when I won a pro candlepin doubles tournament, I was so stunned afterwards that everything was a blur – I got in my car and drove about 20 miles in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake! I have trouble believing that I’m good enough to compete with the best bowlers – I’m not sure why. Even after winning a professional tournament, I still lacked (and lack) self-confidence and sometimes feel that I don’t belong, against the best bowlers. This is part of what I’m trying to explore with Josh’s book.
CHAPTER 2: LOSING TO WIN
In this chapter, one of the most important concepts is what Josh calls “commitment beyond fun – responding to heartbreak with hard work.”
When I’m discouraged after a bad tournament, what I try to do is to be patient. I remind myself that as long as there’s a “takeaway” from every event, I haven’t wasted my time.
It’s not that winning isn’t important, but generally, my best takeaways are from losses. Every spring, I compete in the Easter Classic, a 20-game candlepin tournament that takes all day and uses up pretty much all of my energy, both physical and emotional. Last year, after around 13 or 14 games, I was extremely tired and sore – and was also not bowling very well, so I knew I wasn’t going to take home any money. I was so fatigued and sore that I considered withdrawing from the tournament. But I thought, “What would Josh want me to do right now?” The answer was simple – stay in the game, be present, keep grinding, and find a way to make the rest of the tournament a learning experience for the future. So I got away from the lanes for a few minutes, washed my face, walked around a bit, and refocused on staying patient and trying to find a way to bowl well despite the fatigue and pain.
My right arm and shoulder were so stiff that I couldn’t swing the ball as high as I normally do in my backswing – but I figured out how to make it work and turned the last five games into my best five-game block of the tournament. What’s more, I have retained the slightly lower backswing and find that it gives me more accuracy and consistency – as a result, this season has been my most successful ever, at the age of 50. This is how Losing to Win works for me.
In the Easter Classic – or any pro tournament – there’s always a group of bowlers who throw in the towel when they reach the point where they’re out of the money. The quitters are protecting themselves from the pain that comes from giving your best and having it not be good enough. They’ll say, “I can’t get a break,” or worse, “I stink.” They won’t be patient, because they don’t want to risk giving 100 percent all day and still having no reward. Or they say “This isn’t important, who cares.” They’re not willing to invest in loss – and they’re denying that losing hurts.
My approach is to put my emotional self on the line and admit that losing hurts. Josh describes chess parents who tell their kids that a loss doesn’t matter. Well, it does matter. Owning the emotional pain is an important part of learning from it. And if I’d said, “Who cares?” at the Easter Classic, I wouldn’t have found the swing change that led directly to improved results this season.