“If you’re going to play at all, you’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose.” — Derek Jeter
It seems throughout my years of coaching there will always be instances where people want an apology from me because of my strong desire to win. One of my pet peeves is for a parent (normally with a child on the opposing team) to utter the cliched ‘it’s for the kids.’ No matter the age level I am in complete agreement with this statement but my declaration is definitely not equal in tone as interjected by said parent. I have coached youth baseball, fast-pitch and basketball, as well as American football (is there any other kind?) at the high school and collegiate club levels, and my approach is the same. Teach proper fundamentals, teach proper listening (eyes focused on the coach and actively hearing what is being said) and following directions, doing one’s best always and knowing it’s a heckuva lot more fun when your team is on the winning side of the scoreboard.
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” — Vince Lombardi
Participation ribbons, medals and trophies are the norm today. Arnold Palmer once said, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting it is.” How can today’s youth want to improve at anything — be it sports, academics or life itself — when they are being indoctrinated into a world where winners aren’t appreciated.
Let me put on my curmudgeon cap for a moment. In 1971, I had a sixth-grade math teacher who would have been drummed out of the profession if working with students today. The classroom teaching methods she used would have created such a long line of Moms and Dads to see the Principal you’d think the school district had just opened new Starbucks.
This teacher would have everyone sit in class according to alphabetical order. We would then play ‘The Trapping Game.’ The game began at the first seat of the classroom, the seat occupied by the student with a last name beginning with the letter A. The teacher would ask a math question. If the student answered correctly a new question would be asked of the second student and so on. If a student’s answer was incorrect, the student next-in-order would answer. Should that student miss, but the next student get the answer correctly, the student with the right answer would move up to the spot behind the student with the last right answer. Talk about singling out students! I never had a problem with trapping until I figured out something. With McCormick starting in the middle of the pack it was a challenge to reach that first seat. It seemed every time I made it to the winner’s circle the very next day the teacher would say, “Back in alphabetical order!”
It reached the point where I began keeping track of this. Sure enough, it happened too consistently to be purely coincidental. I began to think this teacher was just favoring the girls in the class but there were other boys staying in the cherished seat longer than me. The only possibility I came up was the teacher just didn’t like me. Maybe it had something to do with a nine-year grudge against my brother as it was that long ago the same teacher had my older brother in class. It was no secret my brother didn’t care for her. Between the two of us brothers was our sister and she seemed to get along with this teacher. Maybe it was a girls club thing! Now, this was before algebra so I was still the ‘A’ math student. Whatever the reason, for me it became a challenge; damn the fact the next day I would be another middle-of-the-packer.
I only reminisce as this was one of the first points in my life where the urge to win, despite the stacked deck before me, made me a better person. There was no way this woman was going to control my life through her petty teaching practices. Was she wrong? Absolutely, but instead of complaining, brooding or giving up I focused on getting to the top seat — even if for only one afternoon every week or two.
“Winning isn’t getting ahead of others. It’s getting ahead of yourself.” — Roger Staubach
In his book, The 7 Habits of HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE author Stephen R. Covey wrote about the Law of the Farm. Just as the successful farmer must first clear land, plow, plant and tend to the crops until reaping the benefits at harvest time, Covey said success in any area of life required the equal amount of hard work and discipline toward any goal deemed desirable. No quick fix or immediate gratification will come (NO participation trophy) without the hard work and discipline by those involved. In other words, if young athletes don’t know — or become victims of a learned response of indifference where winning and losing is concerned — what is it going to be like when these children graduate high school?
I am reminded of my favorite response for parents asking me why I coach to win. I ask them if they like getting a raise in pay where they work? Do they like a bonus? The answer is always in the affirmative. I go on and ask, “Isn’t that a win?” Unfortunately we have people in the workforce waiting for participation raises instead of looking for ways to gain a greater win in life. Recognizing what it takes to better yourself in any aspect of life is the first step toward doing so.
Teach them how and why and the wins will follow!
Coaching today’s youth is much different than the way I was coached in my youth. There was little questioning, only doing what was being told to do by the coach. As coaches we must not just show the athlete how to perform task. We have to explain to them why it’s needed and where it fits in the overall team schematics. Once children grasp the entire picture, it becomes important to them to make every effort to succeed.