Winning and Losing

“Sometimes when you win, you actually lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.” -Gloria Clemente, White Men Can’t Jump

“Coach, what is the difference between winning and losing?”

I think for a moment, knowing that this must have been on his mind for a long time to be asking me so early in our conversation.

“Three inches.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. I waited. I would have waited as long as it took while Preston tried to figure out what his old coach was trying to tell him.

“Okay, coach, I give in. What does that mean?”

“What does it mean to you?”

“Well, if I know you well enough, you are getting deep on me right now, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the scoreboard.”

He knows me well.

“When was your last practice?” I ask.

“Early this morning.”

“Did you run sprints?”

“Yeah, lots.”

“Line to line?”

“Yes, I always touch the line.”

“Does everybody touch the line?”

“No, some guys get close, but they get lazy.”

I wait. I can almost hear the light bulb go on through the phone.

“Three inches is about the distance they get to the line!”

“You got it. Winning and losing is not in your control,” I explain. “Instead of concerning yourself with the score, be a competitor. Who is coming in first during the sprints? Beat them. Who stays after practice to catch a few more throws? Catch more. A competitor does not worry about the scoreboard or stats or social media fans. A competitor shows up to be the best they can be, and their hunger for improvement is never satiated.

We talked for a few more minutes, prayed together, and then he said he was going to bed. It was 8:30 pm. That isn’t a typo. 8:30 pm and this athlete is off to bed, knowing a rested athlete is a productive athlete. I pity the teammate who lined up across from him the next day.

How to develop a team of competitors

Creating a team of competitors will not happen organically. As the coach, you must be intentional about creating a hunger for competition and increase that hunger by giving them a taste of it every day.

Break up your team into small groups and give them five minutes to come up with 10 ways (10 from each group) they can personally compete. These items must be things they can control. Then, have them share with the team.

Watch your players reactions. Write down the ones that get the most “head nods” from teammates.  That is a signal you don’t want to miss because those are the things your athletes know deep down they need to do to be great. Take the cards and compile a list on one sheet of paper.

Post the "Compete Every Day" list somewhere the athletes can see it, maybe on your office window facing out or in the locker room. Set the expectation that you will ask them privately during practice which competitive goal they are working on at that particular moment. This idea works best if the athletes see it on their way to practice so they can physically “tap” it to solidify it in their mind.

Tell your team you will randomly ask them during and after practice what they chose as their personal challenge that day. Are they competing? Are they focused on getting better instead of something in the future that is out of their control?

"Hey, what is your competitive goal today?"

“I don’t know, coach.”

“No problem, I’ll be right here waiting for you to return from your trip to the locker room to pick one. See you in two minutes.”

This only works if you, as the coach, follow through and ask a few players. To create a culture of competitors you have to be consistent in your message. Compete Every Day.