I often hear the comment made that participation trophies are ruining youth sports. I am not a proponent of participation trophies but I wonder if championship trophies are not doing as much damage?
If winning doesn’t matter then why do they keep score? You have probably heard that before. But if winning is all that matters, then why compete if you don’t have a chance of winning?
This is exactly what happens in the terrific movie The Mighty Ducks. Young Gordon Bombay’s transactional hockey coach tells him that if you can’t win, then it’s not worth playing. When Gordon misses the game-winning goal in the championship game he feels like he is a loser and, rather than face the possibility of losing again, he quits.
When Gordon is older and coaching a team of his own he is reminded by one of his mentors that the real tragedy was not that he “could have gone all the way” to play professional hockey, but that he gave up a game he truly loved to play.
John O’Sullivan from the Changing the Game Project calls it “The Great Race to Nowhere.” We are constantly chasing success, worth, and happiness, yet once we seem to arrive it is never enough and what we thought would make us happy is no longer good enough.
Does winning feel good? Sure...at least for awhile. Anson Dorrance, the high-achieving soccer coach at the University of North Carolina, says that it is ephemeral (doesn’t last very long). In fact, they reward their players for winning championships with flowers because it is a reminder that, while they are beautiful, they will soon wither and die just like the emotional high we get from winning.
There is a big difference between having a desire to win and having a need to win.
There is also a difference between happiness in the moment and long-term fulfillment.
Gordon Bombay and the Ducks ended up winning a championship, but along the way the team helped their coach discover that it is not worth it if you have to cheat to win and that sometimes there are consequences, like getting fired from your job, for having the moral courage to stand up for what is right rather than trying to please certain people.
Performance psychologist Jim Loehr asks, “Who are you becoming as a consequence of the chase?” Are you trying to reach excellence, your full potential, and becoming the best version of your self? Or are you so concerned with winning that you are willing to cheat, corrupt your moral character, and mistreat your family and friends in the process?
Life is not about winning. Life is about competing.
It’s about competing to be the best you can be. And you can cheat to get a trophy and change people’s perception of you, but you can’t cheat excellence and you can’t cheat integrity.
There is not a winner’s column and a loser’s column in the obituary section of the newspaper.
So if you are playing for the “trophy”, you are chasing an illusion. If you are not enough without the trophies, you will never be enough with them.
When Gordon’s own player has a penalty shot to win the championship game he tells him that he may make the shot or he may miss the shot, but what matters is that they are there in the present moment, playing a game they love and giving it their best shot.
Compete for the love of the game and the joy of the experience and don’t let trophies define you...let your character do that.
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