Austin Martz, a graduate of Georgetown University, signed his first professional contract in August of 2015 with Pembroke Atleta FC in the Maltese Premier League. Austin will be blogging for The Athlete Story throughout the season, talking about life living abroad, the lessons of being a new professional, and, well, anything he wants.

Here is the third installment. (LINK FOR THE OTHER ONES)

Losing: Only Contagious If You Let It Define You

Austin Martz, Orlando City B winger

We started well. We hadn’t lost. We were top of the table after two great victories- a dream start for Pembroke, the newly promoted team to the BOV Premier League. Two games, two wins, and a locker room full of energy, life, jokes, and fun. Then followed Sliema, and 90 minutes later a 1-0 loss created a locker room full of agony and frustration. “We’ll get the next one boys, we’re playing great football and got unlucky tonight,” said our coach attempting to encourage us. Fast forward another week and 90 minutes later, a 4-1 loss to Birkirkara. “Boys, I still think we’re okay, we let this one slip away and everyone in the stands knows it,” continued coach after our second defeat in a row. Gutted. The same feeling you get when you realize your cereal is soggy. Okay, not quite as bad, but still gutted. Another game the following Tuesday against Balzan would be our chance to turn things around. After leading 1-0 for 42 minutes, two goals before the half sucked the wind out of our sails and we lost 5-1. Three games, three losses, 10 goals conceded. 

You can’t win every game, unless you’re Floyd Mayweather. It’s the nature of sport. My coach in college used to say, “We can do one of three things today. We can win, tie, or lose.” What sounds like the most obvious statement in the world, is the reality of the beautiful game. It just so happened that my team, Pembroke, didn’t win or tie for three straight games. We lost. We didn’t choose to lose, but it happened, and the result cannot be changed. 

Losing is one of the worst feelings in the world. Losing implements a feeling of failure in your mind, a feeling of “I’m not good enough.” Nobody wants to be defeated; nobody is asking to look bad in front of a crowd. Nobody is asking to let their coaches and teammates down. Yet, it’s all you feel. 

A loss starts inwardly. As athletes, we look to blame ourselves. In addition to losing the contest, we lose sleep, we lose peace, and we lose joy. Then you look around at the others on your team. Teammates could start talking behind other teammates backs, unfortunately. Fingers are pointed all over the place. A soft voice of encouragement becomes a thundering thrashing of swear words, anger, and disappointment. You question your ability to be on the field. The coach questions his starting 11. The world is ending, and you don’t want to speak with or see anyone. Because you’re a loser, right?

And then you take a deep breath. 

You remember there is more to life than football. You start to calm down by reminding yourself that circumstances don’t define who you are. No athlete is taught to lose. Every athlete is nurtured to be a winner. You learn how to lose when you fail at winning. Losing is simply the absence of winning. It isn’t the end of the world even if it feels that way, and it certainly isn’t the end of the season. In fact, losing is the beginning of something much greater. You find courage in yourself as a player after a loss and you realize that what you think are your limits, are more like starting points.

Still, how do you pull yourself out of the hole? Much like winning, losing can be contagious and before you know it, 10 games have passed without a win. 

This past Wednesday we called a players meeting- literally proceeding back to the drawing board. Sometimes to move forward, you have to take a few steps backwards. Yes, it makes sense. Writing down all of our struggles, admitting our faults individually, and fostering an environment of complete vulnerability, we looked inward, outward, around, and above (hoping that even the good Lord was listening and could help us out). All of us expressed that it wasn’t panic mode, yet a player’s meeting always indicates there needs to be change. After speaking for 40 minutes we felt empowered. Even our coaches took a step back and admitted some things needed to be changed, but not the football. The football was good, the mentality was not. Every game we conceded a goal, we conceded another within five to ten minutes. Our mental approach needed to change. We had no choice, considering our next game was against Hibernians, last year’s league champs and Champions League qualifiers. Are you kidding me? Three losses and now Hibs? 

Bad mentality.

“If we get three or even one point against Hibernians, we will be strong again.” That’s better. 

Saturday Night Lights. Our first game on a grass field against the champions. A perfect night, about 22 degrees Celsius, a little dew on the field, and a crowd whose energy could be felt in our bones. Ten minutes go by, 0-0. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes, Hibernians red card! Halftime and still 0-0. Now up a man, we were filled with hope. However with our starting left back taken out of the game in the first five minutes, there was a little bit of fear. Yet, his strength, and our strength motivated us.

Hibernians scored in the 55th minute. Nonetheless, we didn’t let our heads drop. This was our game to steal a point, or three. The clock kept ticking. Foul after foul, the game was slipping away. Four minutes of added time and Hibernians was experiencing an all-out attack, yet managing well. Finally, in the 92nd minute we found a breakthrough. All thanks to God, and an answered prayed I offered in the 87th minute, I was fortunate to receive a rebound and rip the ball into the back of the net. Every game we lost, every bad feeling in the pit of our stomachs, suddenly vanished. Our team was together again. All 25 of us, coaches, managers, our trainer, and equipment manager, in one big huddle letting every emotion out that had been bottled up so tightly. The season was alive again. We were alive again. 

Losing is only contagious if you let it be. It sucks. And feeling it three consecutive weekends in a row makes it suck even more. But it only sucks when you let it define you. Establishing trust in one another, we were able to thwart Hibernians and steal a point on their home field, in front of their fans. Renee, our left back who stepped in was big time. Siraj stepped up and created the goal. Ariel, a feisty Argentinian playmaker came in with 25 left and lifted the energy. Nobody is more important than the team and that game we all fought together, for each other. A loser doubts, but a winner, a winner looks at himself in the mirror knowing that true growth happens outside of your comfort zone. A winner kicks doubt out the door and believes. He trades wrong thinking for right believing. Forza Pembroke!