The art of winning and losing

Written by Clayton Saville (Clayton(PJLD))

Posted in :In the news, Sharks, Wallabies, WP on 1 Jul 2011 at 15:19

Paul Dobson writing for

One wonders which is done better – winning or losing. In some ways losing graciously is easier than winning graciously, but both can be revealing of character and personal balance.

Often those who crow loudest in victory are those who did not play and those who complain loudest in defeat are those who did not play.

Players know better than non-players what went into victory and the fickle status of being a victor. Up today may well be down tomorrow. Players tend to understand that. They also understand that in any sporting contest there is likely to be a winner and a loser.

If they are wise, players also respect opponents. Danie Craven, the wisest of men, used to stress the point that in rugby we play against opponents, not enemies. In war enemies are there to be killed but rugby is not a war. Without opponents we would not have a game, and opponents have the same rights that we have – the right to the protection of the laws of the game, the right to enjoy the game and – even – the right to win the game. Doc would say we play with, not against, opponents.

In days of yore there was a super custom in the Western Province. The home captain would call three cheers for the opposition and the opposition would reply in kind, and then the home captain would call for three cheers for the referee. It’s not always like that now and the referee is often the first person losers howl against – which may be why in days of yore there was an oversubscription of referees in the Western Province and now a dearth.

After the cheers the players would shake hands. And watch the players nowadays as they form lines to shake hands. They do a lot better than many non-players do. Watch boxers, who have slammed against each other for round after round, and then collapse in a hug at the end of the fight. Watch the generous manners of golfers, and watch Roger Federer. There are many examples of gentlemanly respect and good manners amongst those who actually play.

Federer led big Jo-Wilfried two sets to love and eventually lost. After the winning point, Federer was up at the net, smiling and congratulating. Tsonga went off on a victory dance while Federer packed up. Federer waited. Tsonga returned packed and the two walked off the Wimbledon court, Federer holding back to let Tsonga go first.

Those with longer memories will remember the crowd running onto the field at Newlands to carry off Rhodesian players when Rhodesia beat Province for the first time and Springboks carrying off John Solomon, the Wallaby captain in 1953, when Australia beat South Africa at Newlands.

That is losing with grace.

This year UCT won the Varsity Cup, beating Tukkies in a gripping final. When the final whistle sounded there was an outburst of UCT glee – hugging and dancing. Through it all the UCT captain, Nick Fenton-Wells, pushed his way out to go and shake hands with the disappointed Tukkies players and thank them for the game.

That is winning with grace.

But then last weekend in a Super 15 play-off I saw a player put out his hand to lift an injured opponent. A while back when the Sharks played the Stormers I came across Frans Steyn, still in his togs, heading for the Newlands surgery to see how Jean de Villiers was after being injured in a Steyn tackle. It’s Adam Gilchrist walking when he knows he hit the ball. It’s about good manners and decency.

We are elated or disappointed but we learn to control/suppress elation and disappointment because we are men, not animals. That is why many find the new rugby habit of hugging and kissing when a try is scored or a trophy won foreign to the self-control the game requires. It was, apart from anything else, far more effective when a team turned blank-faced from a try – telling their opponents that this was not special as they were used to doing it and would do it again. And it would tell themselves that this was the culmination of a team effort, not a solo performance.

Strong men don’t dance about in a frenzy of delight. Strong men don’t gloat and brag. Strong men don’t boo and sneer. Strong men don’t have to cheat. Strong men don’t howl in objection to a referee. Losers do those things and they lose the battle to become better human beings as well.

We have wandered. But the ancient advice given to sportsmen still is valid: win as though you’ve lost and lose as though you’ve won.

Paul Dobson

This article has been used courtesy of


  • Cool read for a Friday afternoon

  • Comment 1, posted at 01.07.11 15:40:16 by Clayton(PJLD) Reply
  • Get frans steyn back …!

  • Comment 2, posted at 01.07.11 15:55:24 by bergshark Reply

  • couldn’t agree more

  • Comment 3, posted at 01.07.11 15:55:30 by war1 Reply
  • @war1 (Comment 3) : With the article, that is.

  • Comment 4, posted at 01.07.11 15:56:58 by war1 Reply
  • @Clayton(PJLD) (Comment 1) :

    I like!! 😎

  • Comment 5, posted at 01.07.11 16:00:49 by wpw Reply
  • Mr Dobson is a cool old dude. SABC 3s James Scholts is cooler.

  • Comment 6, posted at 01.07.11 16:04:22 by Clayton(PJLD) Reply
  • nice piece… good read Dobbo

  • Comment 7, posted at 01.07.11 16:22:07 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Mr Paul Dobson is a legend.

  • Comment 8, posted at 01.07.11 19:24:00 by beet Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • Cheers Claytie….loved it, great read leading into the weekend.

    I like the line we play with opponents not against them – Quality 😎

  • Comment 9, posted at 02.07.11 05:06:41 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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    Hertford Highlander
  • awesome.

  • Comment 10, posted at 02.07.11 05:59:11 by grant10 Reply

  • Finally got around to reading this. Brilliant read, we are losing grace more and more these days it seems.

  • Comment 11, posted at 02.07.11 08:53:37 by molly Reply
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  • @molly (Comment 11) : afraid you are correct.

    Dobson also makes a damn good point about those crowing loudest in victory and those who complain the loudest in defeat being those who never played the game.

  • Comment 12, posted at 02.07.11 09:07:57 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 12) : absolutely, sport is such an important part of growing up, teaches you respect for yourself, your team and your opposition.

  • Comment 13, posted at 02.07.11 09:14:15 by molly Reply
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  • Great article.

    Unfortunately while reading it two images came to mind, firstly it is quiete possible that if the Crusaders won this afternoon then Richie McCaw too could be carried aloft at Newlands, if security allowed it, and the second image was of Schalk Burger shouting at the ref/linesman after getting a yellow at Newlands some years ago.

  • Comment 14, posted at 02.07.11 10:51:04 by Salmonoid Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Salmonoid the Subtle
  • Great article … when you look at a lot of the school kids playing today. It is almost a lost art. Basic guidelines for life are learnt through sport.

  • Comment 15, posted at 07.07.11 08:41:17 by Flintshark Reply

  • @molly (Comment 13) : @Flintshark (Comment 15) : My colleague recently asked me if its a good thing to encourage his kids to play sport at school, I almost choked at the question.

  • Comment 16, posted at 07.07.11 09:48:56 by Clayton(PJLD) Reply

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