England losing the semi-final of the World Cup 2018 to Croatia was obviously disappointing. Hopes were raised, and then dashed. As a therapist, I find that many of us avoid the feeling of disappointment far more than other emotional experiences. Perhaps the reason is because disappointment is so final. It is the recognition that we don’t have, didn’t get and will never achieve whatever it is we wanted. In this case, we will never get another opportunity to win the World Cup 2018. There will be other opportunities, but this one has gone for good.
So, disappointment forces us to admit that we did not get what we wished to have (an England win). It is often easier for us to protest with anger than to face our sadness about the course of events. In many ways holding onto anger helps us to continue idealising what could have been, whilst at a conscious level rubbishing it. We hang onto our anger because that is what we need at the time.
Losing is unpleasant - no doubt about it. Yet when we read and hear how this English side have been ‘disciplined, clean and positive’ both on and off the field, this in itself can reduce the impact of such a negative outcome to an important event. This England team started off with low expectations, so in some ways, reaching the semi-final could be seen as an achievement in itself.
When we fully acknowledge our disappointment, we accept the reality of the situation. And we may feel sad for a while. It remains vital to acknowledge our disappointment and reflect upon how we feel when we lose. Of course, there are lessons to be learned. And when we critically reflect on these, we can then build a strategy to overcome our sense of feeling ‘let down’.
In time we can, once again, begin to feel optimistic about the future of England football. This feeling of optimism helps us to recognise that we are adaptable and capable, just as this England team have demonstrated in the way they have positively modelled their behaviour on their journey to the semi-final of the World Cup.
As in football, life is full of disappointments. It is how we deal with them which is vital. It is important to get things in perspective. For example, if a player becomes so focused on a shoot-out that it becomes all-consuming, they are likely to fail – and as a result feel very disappointed. Fear often manifests itself when we worry about something going wrong. We risk feeling full of anxiety and worry. Fear leads us to panic and rush things. We can’t be fully present and focused if we are pre-occupied with succeeding at all costs. But a shoot-out, like anything else where we feel under intense pressure, can be turned into an opportunity to show our confidence, skills and passion. We can do it our way.
When we acknowledge our disappointment, we acknowledge our humanity. Gareth Southgate seems to understand this. Reports have emerged that the team were given permission to disclose their fears, doubts and anxieties. In other words, to express how they feel. Many men do not know how to express their feelings let alone know when it is safe to do so.
Providing an opportunity to demonstrate it is okay for men to talk about their feelings can only be a good thing. Expressing our vulnerability helps deal with the pain of disappointment. If we feel it is safe to say we feel ‘disappointed’ we don’t have to put on a brave face. When we no longer have to pretend we are ok, we are less likely to be weighed down by negative experiences. We can be authentic. We can be ourselves.
By building resilience and self-belief, we come to realise that losing is not the end of the world. Like any goal we set ourselves, the road ahead will not be without its blockages, but learning from our failures, reflecting on our disappointments and overcoming difficult situations can build a sense of optimism, confidence and renewed self-belief. Both on and off the pitch.