England losing the World Cup was an important lesson on winning in life

There's a poster hanging up at my gym which reads 'Failure Is Not An Option' alongside an impressive picture of Michael Jordan dunking on an unsuspecting NBA player.

I often look at it as I sweat my way through another round of burpees. It's a kind of sick torture really because I hate burpees, they're the absolute worst and I'd happily fail at them.

But something about MJ's judgy eyes forces me to keep pushing on and complete my set (of 5).  

This is not a new phenomenon, sports stars have long acted as aspirational figures who inspire us to go above and beyond. But the reverse is also true and it's never been more obvious than this week.

Grim realities

Yesterday I woke to an almost palpable sense of mourning unravelling on my social media feeds.

Roger Federer, a man so infallible, polite and Swiss had crashed out of Wimbledon in five sets. To make matters worse, the English football team who sailed to the FIFA World Cup semi-finals on a chorus of "It's Coming Home" failed at the second last hurdle.

The sporting exploits of men thousands of miles away never hit closer to home and I wasn't alone.

Colleagues lamented that the ageless Federer seemed to be slowing down, while subconsciously rubbing their bald spots. I overheard fellow commuters resigned to the fact "England's run had been hopeless from the start," then sigh and look out the window glumly.

It was grim.


They had lost and now we all felt like losers but this couldn't be right. I decided to get to the bottom of this it with the help of someone who knows much more than me.

Sharing Is caring

Turns out our sympathy pains for Roger Federer following his devastating loss have less to do with loving the Swiss maestro and more to do with loving ourselves.

"Because of our attachment to them, we see ourselves in someone like Federer and the inevitable loss of capability over time (due to age) will happen to us," explains clinical and coaching psychologist, Dr Suzy Green.

"Our culture prioritises youth and agelessness, so we often struggle with these losses."

Losing the game, finding the good

I'll admit I was heavily invested in the miracle of England at this World Cup, I shivered through the early morning games, beginning to believe with each surprise win.

They dared to dream and so did we, but now that it's over, I almost wish they'd gone out in the group stages.

The best possible you

Seems that kind of false hope does more harm than good?

"No, no, no," says Dr Green with such passion she probably needed to be in the English sheds at halftime.

"You can't have that kind of fear of failure, because it prevents you from being your best possible self."  

I think she's on the money too – if I'm really honest, seeing England crash and burn early would've just made me jaded and bitter.

"They came close, they provided hope and developed greater levels of mental toughness, which fans inherit too."

Your heroes are human

There's a big difference between "Swiss father of four has a bad day at work" and "eight-time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer knocked out of Wimbledon."

Perception is everything and sometimes it pays to remember that people who are 'failing' are just like you and I (except way fitter and seriously loaded.)

"It's all about attachment and realising that we're all humans - even superstars ," says Dr Green.

It's especially true in this day and age, when sports stars begin to peak in their late teens and early twenties.

English forward Marcus Rashford was in tears after yesterday's loss – he turns 21 in October.

If we can take a step away and remember all the times we failed spectacularly at that age, it might help the recent loss hurt a little less.

Finding the balance

Ultimately coming to terms with failure is supposed to be hard, because our instinct is to avoid it at all costs.

But if these past few weeks have taught me anything, it's that failure and success will always ebb and flow and while it's fun to ride the wave, you don't want to over-invest.

"Stories like this provide a distraction from our daily routines, which can be a positive thing," echoes Dr Green.

"But it's important that we don't let it take over our day to day lives."

Amen to that, here's to failing at burpees forever.