Many times we can get caught up using old clichés without first thinking about how it really applies, and if it makes sense to use it in a given situation. I took an old cliché and would like to challenge it by reversing the order. Normally you hear, “It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” If we look at this with a more honest approach, we might agree, it doesn’t really make sense.
Certainly we need to learn to play the game with established principles and integrity. But make no mistake, it is the competitive drive that makes us want to play sports and winning is a way we measure our success and reward our drive. Will losses come? Most definitely, but learning how to win can provide valuable lessons which players can carry with them beyond the playing field, and into their daily lives..
From the time we start to teach our youth about sports, we start keeping score and count the wins and losses. This teaches our young athletes to give their best and provides them with a sense of accomplishment when they win. So why is it that more and more I see growing number of people wanting to give trophies and awards to players just because they compete? Does my boss or company reward me for showing up for work? Emphatically, NO!
This concept of rewarding average (or sometimes below average) effort seems to me to ill prepare our young athletes to be ready for the working world. We live in a competitive world, and understanding why winning is important can help you accomplish more than just wins in sports. What does focusing on winning do for us? Let’s be clear my message isn’t “win at all costs,” it is a focus on creating the desire to win and playing to win. I will clarify this difference later.
Focusing on winning and teaching our youth that we play to win, shows them that if they prepare and work as hard as they can, that it will pay off. Playing to win the right way can build character, confidence and trust in others. When you ask your teammates to give it everything they have and you do the same, a hard-fought victory brings a sense of accomplishment that stays with you throughout life. Hard work doesn’t always mean you will win or get everything you want, but it does create a habit that will get you further in life no matter what you chose to do. Aristotle said, “we are what we repeatedly do, excellence, therefore isn’t an act, but a habit.”
Now understanding that winning “at all costs” teaches you nothing, is also very important. We live in a world today that says as long as you don’t get caught you can cheat and cut corners to win. This is a slippery slope. Cheating your way to the top or to victory by walking over others may provide short-term benefits but it costs more in the long run with the loss of integrity, respect, friendships and often even freedom.
Integrity must always come first. Steroids are one example where the lack of integrity has devastated sports. Unfortunately the athletes that have used this to get ahead, not only hurt their health long term, and cost the integrity of their sport, they also have to live with the fact that they cheated to get to the top.
If we teach our young players that winning is important and fun, AND teach the right way to win, I believe we can show them all the lessons and values that come with it. One lesson that may be the most obvious is how hard work can get you ahead in sports and also in life. More importantly let’s teach our kids and young adults that as long as you work hard and continue to, day in and day out, good things will happen. You may experience loss or disappointment along the way, in fact you will experience loss and disappointment, but when we have created the habit of continued forward progress, we are helping our youth overcome the next obstacle.
Earlier in this message I mentioned my disagreement with a sentiment that seems to have become popular in the last decade or so. The concept that our society has started to build an “everyone wins because they participate” mentality. I strongly disagree. I do believe we should give praise for giving your best, but don’t believe it should be rewarded with trophies or awards. Why? The reason has to do with pain, yes I said pain. When we experience pain what does our bodies want to do? It looks at ways to avoid that pain again. One way to avoid pain is to avoid the situation, in this case quitting a sport.
I believe when you experience pain and loss, the best thing that can happen is you is that you can learn from it and move forward and become better despite of the pain. Muscles that are strained in physical exertion actually recover stronger, thereby ‘avoiding’ pain by being able to bear more, and repair themselves by growing stronger than before. As parents or friends and relatives, we don’t want the people around us to experience pain, so we try to protect them from it. It’s a natural response, however that approach doesn’t allow for the natural learning opportunity that painful situations may provide. I’d like to propose we change this way of thinking so we can allow our youth and young adults to grow
Protect your kids, protect your friends, protect your family, but allow them to fail, and experience pain. Victory doesn’t feel as good without haven’t gone through pain of some kind. Athletes that play in championship games have failed many times more than they have won the championship. I believe any athlete that has won after years of playing will say all the failures and pain they experienced along the way was worth the effort.
In my opinion, it is about “winning”, winning the right way! Play with integrity, live with character, and learn from loss and disappointments. Learn how to push yourself and keep going because often victory comes just after the times are toughest. The lessons we learn when we focus on winning maybe more important than the WIN itself. Maybe the new message should be: Work hard to win, but if you don’t, learn from your loss and work hard to win another day, because victory will come.