Dealing with Defeat

Reactions to a loss are mixed. Most remain composed, keep it in perspective and avoid anger; others allow the emotion to become determination to not to let it happen again.

It’s a little different for everyone.

Some take it in stride; others let is gnaw at them like a burr under a saddle. Every other reaction falls somewhere in between.

When Notre Dame lost in double overtime to Texas last Sunday night, it was up to each Irish player to acknowledge the results of a season-opening setback, set his mind straight and move on.

How do Notre Dame’s players deal with defeat?

“I’m still pissed, obviously,” said senior cornerback Cole Luke Thursday – four days after the loss and two days before taking on Nevada in the 2016 home-opener.

“Everybody’s still pissed. The one way you can get rid of that disappointment and negative energy is to go out Saturday and get a W.”

Senior defensive lineman Isaac Rochell who, like Luke, is in his third year as a starter for the Irish, offered a more low-key response. Each has started 27 games for Notre Dame, and for the ninth time, they’ll be responding to a loss.

“I personally have a quick turnaround,” Rochell said. “I’m not going to sit there and sulk or feel bad because we have another game, especially this week with such a short week.

“The point is we’ve got to get guys going and not have the mindset that we’re defeated and our season’s over. There are plenty of one-loss teams that have done great things, won national championships, so the goal doesn’t change.”

If you’re looking for a noticeable reaction in the aftermath of a loss, or a change in demeanor and approach with his teammates, it won’t come from junior quarterback DeShone Kizer, who started his 12th game in a Notre Dame uniform last weekend in Austin.

“I’m a guy (that doesn’t) change much,” Kizer said. “We all are elite athletes, we all know how to self-correct. To go out and give a brand new message after a game one loss would be idiotic on my part.

“I’m just going to harp on the same things we harped on before, and that’s executing everything we do.”

For Kizer, overreacting to a hard-fought loss would be losing sight of the positives that came out of the game.

“We played good ball,” Kizer said. “We had a really good game plan against Texas. Putting up 47 points is obviously a success. But there were quite a few plays that if we would have executed some of the simple things we’ve been doing since Culver, we would have come out with 21-to-28 more points.

“The defense will make the corrections they have to make and they’re going to come back better than ever against Nevada. I completely trust them.”

For sophomore running back Josh Adams, losing at Notre Dame is a recent phenomenon. After winning 10 of 11 games to open his college career, the Irish have dropped three straight, dating back to last year’s regular-season finale against Stanford and the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.

“Nobody wants to lose,” Adams said. “Everybody is frustrated a little bit. The best thing and the only thing you have to do is focus on how you can make that not happen again.

“Look at the little things that you did wrong, see where you made mistakes and how you can get a win next week. That’s the best thing after a loss. Sometimes that frustration turns into energy. It’s the fuel that the team needs.”

Sometimes the most difficult chore after losing a game is turning one’s mind off and allowing the suspension of consciousness to initiate the healing process. That’s easier said than done for some.

“I didn’t sleep much Sunday night,” said junior linebacker Greer Martini. “I didn’t feel very good.

“But it’s a new week, so you give yourself one day and now it’s on to Nevada. We’re conditioned to think that way whether we win or lose. Either way, you have to move on with the right frame of mind.”

Sophomore wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown had a couple of conflicting emotions swirling in his head in what was a coming out party for the sophomore wide receiver making his first career start in just his eighth game in an Irish uniform.

“It’s fuel,” said St. Brown -- who had five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Longhorns -- of the defeat. “But you have to kind of overlook it and focus strictly on the next game. It probably took me until like Tuesday before I was over it.”

C.J. Sanders, also a sophomore making his first start at slot receiver, exceeded his freshman reception total of one with three grabs for 55 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown on Notre Dame’s first overtime snap.

He latched on to Brian Kelly’s mantra following the defeat.

“It taught us as a team that we’ve got to finish,” Sanders said. “You can play well, but the bottom line is finishing.”

A burst of emotion is a natural byproduct of defeat, particularly with so much still on the line.

“I think you always have to play with emotion and lead with emotion,” Adams said. “A loss is something nobody wants, so more people begin to show emotion.”

For the older players, how they react to their teammates is a key ingredient in developing leadership and steering the mindset towards determination as opposed to frustration.

“I’m not a yeller,” Luke said. “If you’re doing something wrong, I’ll call your name and tell you this is what you need to do. If you’re wrong again, that’s when we have a problem.”

Kizer trusts the mindset that his teammates have developed. In a very short period of time, he’s adjusted his own mindset from backup quarterback who had difficulty believing in his ability to lead to the voice and calming influence on the team.

“This is a team of smart, talented guys,” Kizer. “I’m going to allow them to make their self-corrections on their own.

“If there’s something in practice I see that needs to be addressed, then I will. I’m the first one to get on them to make sure they’re playing hard. But other than that, they’re all great athletes, they’re going to make the adjustments on their own, and they’ll get coached up all week and be ready to go.”

Leadership comes in many forms. After the initial burst of emotion that comes with a difficult loss, it’s up to the upperclassmen to pull the collective psyche of the team together.

“You don’t want to over-emphasize it like, ‘We can’t lose! We can’t lose!’” Rochell said. “That’s only going to make guys tight.

“Guys get it. We’ve told guys already what the goal is and that it hasn’t changed.  I just tell the guys I love ‘em, we’re still fighting the same fight and we still have a goal. It’s the same goal we had going into last week. The goal hasn’t changed.”


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories