We love winning. Even before it was turned into Charlie Sheen’s celebrity meltdown catch phrase, the idea of winning got much love. Long before it was regularly hash-tagged, “winning” was dutifully lifted up on the playing field by many a player and a coach – “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Yes, “you play to win the game.” Furthermore ABC’s Wide World of Sports got it right, winning is a thrill and defeat is agony.

This all being said, most wise coaches appreciate and athletes that have spent time in an introductory sport psychology class know that “winning” can be distracting. More specifically, a goal-orientation that leans heavily towards outcomes (a.k.a. ego) doesn’t help… it actually inhibits high performance. Differently, a goal-orientation that is task (a.k.a mastery) oriented tends to lead to positive feelings and high performances. While winning is nice, science tells us that focusing on is not particularly useful. Again, most coaches and many athletes have received this information.

Yet many still get tangled up in “winning.” Why is this so? Despite evidence shouting down its benefits, why do they cling to this outcome orientation so tightly?

Perhaps because winning matters. Winning is exciting. Winning is fun. Winning makes you feel good about yourself. Winning makes people like you a bit more. Anything that would appear to divert one’s attention from winning may feel risky.

This is where so many go astray. It is not an either or proposition. Just because you focus on the task at hand, talk a lot about effort, and care passionately about trying to execute the game plan does not mean that you care any less about winning (it may actually mean you care more about it as you’re willing to fully commit thoughts to more productive endeavors). Diverting one’s attention from the scoreboard or refraining from proclamations about a forthcoming victory do not mean that there is not a thirst for winning… but it could feel that way. It could be reasonable to suspect that some where in our deep dark unconscious (I leave it to Freud figure out the full details of this one), we fear that not giving enough attention to winning makes us somehow less of a competitor. Winning is socially acceptable. Focusing on the things that get you there… not so much and not so entertaining.

The wise athlete and coach, loves winning, but focuses on preparing for and playing the game at hand. Winning happens after the good battle has been fought… let’s wrap our arms and minds around it at that time. Easy to understand, tough to do.

When preparing and playing the game, the athlete that fails to loosen his mental grasp on “winning,” more often than not find himself “losing.”

2 Responses to “#Winning”

  1. 1 David Heintz March 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Wholeheartedly agree.

  2. 2 The Proverbs Group October 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Well written! Just like failing doesn’t make you a failure. Winning doesn’t necessarily make you a winner.

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