Author’s Note: This entire article applies to teammates. If your coach has cause to ask The Question, completely different rules apply.
Anyone who competes in Brazilian jiu jitsu has heard The Question upon returning from a tournament. It seems innocuous enough.
“How did you do?”
If we won, The Question is a welcome one and the conversation goes like this:
“I won my division.”
“Thanks! I feel pretty good. Gonna take a day or two off and then get back to work.”
But if we lost, the situation is a bit more complicated and we give one of the following answers:
- “I lost my first, but my opponent went on to win the division.”
- “I lost in the semi-final; I thought I was up on points, but it was tied up and the other guy had an advantage.”
- “I lost before the medal round. I went into this one feeling a little off, and I never got my timing down.”
- “I lost in the final. I’m frustrated.”
- “I completely bombed, like those tests they used to do in the desert. I am pretty sure I have lost all jiu jitsu ability, if I ever had any, and I feel absolutely horrible.”
I have yet to say what I’m usually actually thinking/feeling when a well-meaning teammate asks me The Question after I lost spectacularly. “None of your G*ddamn business.”
When you think about it, it’s very difficult to give an effective response to The Question if we have lost, where “effective” means that it satisfies the asker’s curiosity while keeping the awkwardness level – for both parties – to a minimum. It’s not enjoyable to talk about losing. Further, it’s hard to know what to say to someone who has lost and is not happy about it.
Even though I wrote about what I learned in the face of losses at a recent tournament, make no mistake: Most anyone who competes prefers to win. And when you don’t, it’s hard enough to deal with it yourself, let alone let go of any real or imagined judgment from the asker.
Let me hasten to emphasize what I mentioned above, which is that most people who are asking are not trying to be stinky. I have been on the receiving end of The Question multiple times, and I have come to believe most askers are truly hoping congratulations are warranted, and are eager to extend said congratulations. My point is simply that popping that particular Question is a crapshoot, both because there is a fifty percent chance the answer is one the answerer would rather not have to discuss in detail, and also because individual answerers are going to have different reactions to having to share bad news.
So what is a well-meaning teammate to do? If you know I was intending to compete, it would be weird for us to see each other after the tournament occurred and yet never speak of it. But asking The Question could go south quickly, as I have already suggested. Herewith, then, are a few alternative Questions I have experimented with, Questions that acknowledge the participation but, one hopes, give the answerer some alternatives to painful self-disclosure. Start with “Did you go to a tournament this weekend?”
Then choose one of the following:
- Did you have fun?
- How was the trip?
- Where was the tournament located?
- Was it a big event?
- Did you see any exciting matches?
By asking one of these more innocuous questions, you divert the attention from the obvious, but nobody is on the spot. The answerer may still decide to share details of his/her own performance, but now s/he has a choice. If the person offers results or makes leading statements like, “Yeah, and I had a good experience too,” that is a cue that you can safely ask The Question.
If the answerer decides to skirt the main issue, there are other ways for you to discover how s/he did. But by doing things this way, you have given your teammate an out if s/he doesn’t want to discuss it, and you have potentially avoided having to feel awkward yourself.
How do you feel when you are asked The Question after a loss? Is it challenging to deal with, or am I just an overly sensitive, whiny baby? (I’m perfectly prepared to accept that the latter is true.) Post your thoughts to comments.