Several years ago I lost a close friend in an automobile accident. Damien and I had grown up together going to school and playing sports and had both moved back to our hometown. We each had three children and they were all about the same ages. Damien coached my son’s youth baseball team and he was great at teaching them the fundamentals but also making sure they had fun.
After the first game of the season, Damien texted to let me know that my son had done well since I was at my other son’s baseball game. He commented that the kids “had a smile on their face and you could tell they were having fun,” despite the fact that they lost on the scoreboard by quite a few runs.
I responded to him, “You are doing a good job with them and it will pay off in the future.”
Damien responded with some great perspective, “Wins and losses don’t matter. If they are having fun and improving as the year goes on is the only thing that matters. It is nice to see several in that young group just really love playing the game. That is the nice thing. They want to play.”
The world would be a better place if all youth sports coaches had Damien’s perspective.
My favorite memory of Damien is one for which I was not actually present. But because I knew him so well I can picture the moment vividly in my mind. My wife relayed the story about what happened at the end of one of the baseball games he coached the summer he died. My son and his son, who were six years old at the time, came up and asked Damien if our team had won the game (we had actually lost the game by about 10 runs but we often did not tell the kids the score).
He asked the boys, “Do you think you won?”
They responded with huge smiles, “Yes!”
Damien proclaimed, “Well then you won the game.” Then they celebrated like they had won the World Series.
Damien understood that if you give your best effort and have fun and enjoy playing the game the right way then you are a winner. Les Brown declares that in this world there are winners, there are losers, and there are people who have not discovered how to win. Sure, as you get older you start paying attention to the score and things become more “competitive”. But why should the measurement of how we feel about ourselves change. Did you give your best effort? It shouldn’t even be, “Did you play well?” Mistakes happen, slumps occur, and you can give your best effort but not necessarily play well. Did you respect the game and play it the right way, no matter what the outcome? It is easy to feel good when things are going well, and just as easy to feel bad when things are not.
Brad Stevens says how we handle our biggest defeats and our biggest wins are both true signs of our character. This is maybe one of the greatest lessons I have tried to embrace throughout my coaching journey. I was always pretty good at staying humble when we won. I enjoyed the wins but I tried not to let them make me feel like I was on top of a mountain. However, I often let the losses affect my mood and sometimes it affected how I treated other people, especially my family and my players.
As I began to become more aware of this and was intentional about my mood after losses, I almost began to feel like I was doing something wrong if I was not depressed after we lost. I believe society has conditioned us to think we should mope around and pout if we lose because it shows how much we want to win. It is okay to be disappointed, especially if we gave our best effort and prepared as best we could, but it cannot affect our attitude or how we treat people. If we have a growth mindset and move forward in a positive direction, then doesn’t that show how much we want to win?
Sometimes people do not work very hard and prepare, but then are upset by the results. Sometimes people work hard when they think they have a chance to win on the scoreboard, but after things aren’t going their way they stop putting forth their best effort. How do you expect to bounce back from a loss or get out of a slump if you let the results dictate your effort and level of commitment?
This is the reason that John Wooden did not like emotion, but preferred to play with an increasing level of intensity. If we play with emotion the highs will feel great and the lows will feel terrible and we will be on an emotional rollercoaster.
So how do we stay off that rollercoaster? Have a growth mindset, don’t put our value in the outcomes, and focus on the process of improving a little bit each day without comparing ourselves to others.
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