By John O’Sullivan
As a young coach, I was convinced that there were only two possible outcomes to a game, winning or losing. Of course, losing was to be avoided at all costs, even if that meant not playing weaker players, benching under-performers, criticizing referees, you name it. Then I started to study people whom I would call master coaches, people like John Wooden, Mike Krzyzweski, and others, and realized that their entire philosophy was built not around winning and losing, but winning and LEARNING!
Armed with two positive outcomes every time we had a game, throughout the season the question I asked my teams changed from “Why did we lose?” to “What did we learn?” Players performed better in the second approach, because they knew they were either going to win and learn, or lose and learn from it. At practice the next week, we discussed what we learned, and got on with the journey of getting better. It turned the focus on the process, and not the outcome of games. As we have discussed before regarding the work of Dr Carol Dweck and Mindset, focusing on effort and process instills a growth oriented state of mind in your athletes, which has been proven to increase performance.
Now do not get me wrong, this did not mean we did not try to win, or compete to the best of our ability. One of the biggest misconceptions in youth sports today is one held by misinformed coaches and parents who think that if you do not win all your games the sky is falling. They think that if you do not focus on things like wins, trophies, and rankings, you are not being competitive. They think that if they forgo a win in the name of developing players they are teaching kids to be non competitive. They could not be more wrong. They confuse success and excellence, and those two things are quite different.
Success is about the outcome, excellence is about the process of becoming proficient. The former gives you a short term buzz, yet instills fear of losing. A quest for excellence, however, turns an athlete’s focus upon the journey of athletic development, which is filled with struggle, disappointment, and success. Athletes on a quest for excellence inevitably have much more success then those who focus solely upon winning and positive outcomes. They accept more challenging situations, so they will learn from them. They go out of their comfort zone in the quest to improve. They also celebrate the achievements of others.
Success oriented individuals fear all achievement other than their own. They do not seek out challenges, for their validation comes only through outcomes, and not the journey. They seek praise through wins instead of effort. And when the going gets to tough, success seekers get going.
My advice to you is to follow the path of our most SUCCESSFUL COACHES, and that is a path of EXCELLENCE! That is the path of winning and learning! Don’t take my word for it. The results speak for themselves.
John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and , and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”