January 17, 2023

The Art of Losing: a discussion on dealing with not winning with three big winners – Part 1

Nobody likes to lose.

Whether it’s an exam at school, the job you applied for, or that crossword puzzle you like to do every morning, we like to win, to be the best, to come out on top.

Most of life’s competitions are private matters between you and the contest. No one really needs to or can know about the result unless you tell them. You can keep your defeat bottled up, learn from it and move on.

But what about very public losing? Competing athletes are the most common example. The World Cup just took place, and, despite the participants being the absolute very best in the world, it was only Argentina that won. Sure, the rest were winners simply by being there and participating, but the reality is, they lost, and in a very public way.

And don’t forget they get paid a lot for competing, so winning and losing are part of the job.

But what about us pipers and drummers? We’re a bunch of hobbyists who very willingly choose competition as our primary performance platform. We happily subject ourselves to very public scrutiny. And generally we don’t do it only a few times a year. We compete in two, three, even five or six events at every competition.

And guess what? Even the greatest professional solo pipers and drummers and the most elite Grade 1 pipe bands on earth will place second or further down far more often than they win.

To the outsider (and even to many of those on the inside), all that chronic losing can be extremely difficult, even impossible, to understand.

To those of us who are compelled to compete, we learn to deal with defeat in many different ways. Even the best players and bands learn to leverage losing. It’s not just a skill; it’s an art.

Call it The Art of Losing.

But constantly losing can lead to unintended outcomes for many. Psychologists cite “exaggerated thoughts” as a byproduct of losing. “I’m terrible and useless and I’ll never be any good at anything.” Emotional pain can be debilitating unless you learn to “grow from it rather than merely survive it.”

There’s even clinical post-traumatic stress that can come from a major loss in competition. The “What if?” syndrome that can result when a small mistake might have cost you a prize, or that early E that cost your band the contest – we can easily dwell on “the emotional fallout of losing.”

It’s no wonder that many pipers and drummers drop out of the competition scene, which to them can become a mug’s game. They choose instead to find other performance opportunities, and come to the conclusion that an obsession with perfection can be unhealthy.

We find the psychological aspects of what we competitors do fascinating. Often talking about a problem serves to help solve it.

So we thought we’d get together three of piping’s greatest winners to talk about . . . losing. How do they deal with it?

  • Ben Duncan of Edinburgh has featured regularly at the top of solo piping prize lists throughout competitions in Scotland, including the major gatherings. He retired from a distinguished military career last year at the age of only 33, and is now a full-time piping instructor at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh.
  • Bruce Gandy is one of the winningest pipers in the world. The top prizes on his resume include both Highland Society of London Gold Medals, the Senior Piobaireachd at Oban (twice), the Bratach Gorm (twice), the Silver Star MSR at Inverness, and just about everything there is to win in North America. His book Performance: Delivering Your Own Awesome delves into, among many other things, coping with losing and converting negatives to positives. He lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
  • Jenny Hazzard is one of the world’s top solo pipers with numerous awards to her credit, including the Silver Medal at the Northern Meeting. She’s a member of reigning World Champions Field Marshal Montgomery, and has competed with several other Grade 1 bands during her three-decade career. She lives in Edinburgh.

Each of these pipers has had their ample share of winning and, as with all competing pipers and drummers, has been “not first” far more often. So, they clearly know how to convert losing into positives so that they can keep on winning.

Here’s Part 1 of our two-part Art of Losing panel discussion.

Stay tuned for The Art of Losing Part 2, an exclusive pipes|drums panel discussion.

What do you think? We always love to hear from readers/viewers, so please do express your thoughts using our Comments feature below.




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