Winning, in its simplest form, is what all athletes want to do―they want to win. The sheer nature of competitive sports being competitive brings forth these winning aspirations; it’s simply part of the “game.” If this was not the case, then there would be no reason to keep score.
And whether one participates in team sports or individual sports, in subjectively scored sports or sports where you know the winner based on scoring points, getting the best time or crossing the finish line first, winning does take precedence over losing―no question about that. But should it take priority over everything?
Winning and the overemphasis on it, can blind athletes, coaches, and parents to the narrowness it can bring to the table and the limiting factors this narrowness tends to support.
What I mean by this is that one’s vision and/or focus can become limited in scope as it constitutes an emphasis that tends to prioritize winning as the main or only priority.
Individuals whose mindset leans this way are more inclined to concentrate largely on what one needs to do in order to defeat their next opponent, and much less on how those pieces fit into the overall scheme of developing athletes and teams to reach their full potential.
Putting it another way, they place too little emphasis on the foundations and fundamentals that are the cornerstones of future athletic possibilities and accomplishments. The “win” becomes the only goal rather than simply an outcome of putting the right training pieces together, or the right efforts in the right places.
So what does this mean in a practical sense? Here are three things to help clarify:
- Always spend some training time on the fundamentals of the game, the basics (both technically and strategically) you need to play your sport. They are the pieces of the sport that without, the game cannot be played (i.e. ball handling and passing in basketball, overhand and underhand passing in volleyball, throwing and catching in baseball, etc.)
- Build a practice plan that focuses on continually developing your skill-set (skills of the game), always working to master your strengths and improve on your weaknesses.
- Set aside specific and concentrated training time for conditioning, always looking toward improving your fitness capabilities in the manner in which your sport is played.
Not meant to be a comprehensive list, these should get you thinking and moving in the right direction.
One individual who I believe embodied this concept of striving to reach one’s potential as priority one (working toward being the best one can be), and winning as an outcome of this, was coach John Wooden.
For those of you who may not know “Coach,” as he was so affectionately called by many, he is the former coach of the UCLA Bruins (1948 – 1975). His accomplishments include four 30-0 seasons, winning ten collegiate Division I National Championships (seven of which were consecutive), winning 81% of the games he coached for UCLA, and being one of only three individuals ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and as a coach, just to name a few.
And his coaching style centered on the statement I mentioned above―[always] working toward being the best one can be, both on the inside and out. He believed that this built the foundation for winning, as he spent much less time concerning himself with his next opponent. Developing every athlete’s potential on the team, both physically and mentally, was his major focus.
Still relative today (maybe even more so than yesteryear), it is Wooden’s foundational concepts that, in my mind, separate coach Wooden from all others. Prioritizing the long-term aspects of potential, always striving to be the best one can be, over the short-term gratification of winning as the only goal, is an aspect seemingly lost in today’s sports and youth sports culture.
Coaches, athletes, and/or parents should take a note right out of Coach Wooden’s playbook and build the physical (skill-set, conditioning, etc.) and mental (industriousness, intentness, initiative, enthusiasm, etc.) as a priority and strive to reach your full potential. Rest assured, winning will come; it certainly did for teams under Wooden’s tutelage.