As parents or coaches (individuals in charge of and responsible for a young sports enthusiast’s “education”), we must keep in mind how important it is where we place our emphasis in athletics. Whether we realize it or not, our actions and attitudes help to “teach” athletes where their own priorities should be. This is especially true at the younger ages (say before high school age) when kids are influenced, to a greater degree, by the adults in charge of their direction.
It is my belief that during this time frame, we must make a conscious effort to place a higher value on the process of working hard as an athlete over the outcomes these efforts may bring—that is, if we ever truly want to make an impact on a sports environment that seems to have its priorities a little mixed up.
In order for me to further explain this concept of process over outcome, it might be a good idea to clarify the definition and use of these terms as I am applying them here. The concepts I explain below were first presented in a previous article on my ChicagoNow blog titled Process Over Outcome: Has America Forgotten?
Process Thinking: The term "process" is essentially the actual work and/or effort that one puts into a task. It is demonstrated by a clear and organized path that takes into account what is to be done today, tomorrow, and in the future. One who focuses more on the process takes great care in clarifying for themselves how what they are doing today will build toward what they want to do tomorrow. "Winning" today is not as important to one who prioritizes the process, as is building toward consistent success down the road. It is more of a long-term approach that lends itself to continued gains and achievement through time rather than immediate gains in the here and now. Making sacrifices now for possible future successes later fits well with the idea of "process" type thinking.
Outcome Thinking: The outcome is the end result, the "reward," so to speak. It is the "gains" one has or gets after the work has been completed and/or choices have been made. It is characterized as more of a short-term approach. Concentration and focus are weighted toward ways to achieve that outcome in the shortest and most efficient way possible - this is of utmost importance. "Winning" today is of high priority, even if it may negatively impact the future. The impact on this future that today's decisions have 2, 5, 10, or 20 years down the road is looked at as something that can be dealt with later, when or if those impacts materialize. It is not of primary concern at this immediate juncture. Making sacrifices now that would limit current gains is not something indicative of outcome-type thinking, rather it centers on accomplishing short-term-type goals.
Both of these definitions help give a more adult perspective on why the “process” should be valued over the “outcome” throughout an athlete’s development, and how not doing so can lead to a “winning at all costs” type attitude—something we certainly see evidence of in our current sports culture. This view gives coaches and parents a point of solid reference from which they can direct their own actions and attitudes—things young athletes readily pick up on.
Of course, we would not expect a young athlete to adopt these definitions to the extent that they are clarified here. Rather, it is the general meaning behind them, and the importance of placing a much higher priority on the process way of thinking over the outcome way of thinking, that we want to communicate to athletes.
What this comes down to is this—we want to emphasize and prioritize the daily efforts one puts in and the improvements one makes—the process—both as a team and as an individual, over and above the wins—the outcome— these efforts bring. In my experience, when this priority is reversed and winning becomes #1 above all else, and the external rewards that can follow such winning become more important than anything else, it sets the stage for problems like those we are seeing in sports today.