As a child growing up, I was very competitive in almost every activity. This was an attitude I developed on my own with no influence from my parents, siblings or peers. I was an active child and found my physical release in the way of participating in sports. Not to brag, but sports came natural for me and I was fairly successful in most physical activities. I believe much of this success had been my desire to win. When you talk with Olympic or Professional athletes, they all have one thing in common – the same desire to Win. But winning is not everything – we all lose at one time or another and it is a lesson that people, regardless of the activity or business, must learn to manage.
I have worked with both recreational students and competition athletes, and the dynamics are very different for each of these. In the recreational side of sports, the athletes participate mostly for the entertainment of the activity. In the absence of competition, the desire to win is not always the motivation driver to excel, but more simply, it’s just to learn. If on the other hand, the student strives to be the best compared to the other students in the gym they may have that burning desire to compete. With that said, some students simply want to be better than their classmates, this in itself can be considered competition.
For the competitive side of sports, the issue of winning and losing becomes much more of a serious issue. Competitive athletes do so with the understanding their performance will be compared to other athletes. This makes the desire to perform at their best paramount, and the desire to win all-consuming. Not only is this a major focus for the athlete, it can also be a major focus of the coaches and organization they represent. Athletes that are on collegiate scholarships or professional athletes, for example, also have an obligation to train and perform at an expected level in order to continue their participation. This is an external influence that high level athletes understand and accept as a condition of competition.
However, with this said, I do believe this focus needs to be adjusted depending on the age group and level of sport. I believe many youth programs put too much emphasis on the aspect of winning. This is a lot of pressure on a young student and may create unnecessary stress at such a young age. I have experienced watching coaches of students at the ages of 6-8 treating them as if they were training for the Olympic Games. I do not believe this is the correct approach as students of such a young age do not fully understand the ideals of commitment, motivation, and sacrifice. For those athletes in the higher levels of sport, the issue of participating to win is much stronger and efforts become greater to achieve this success.
When high level competitive athletes train to prepare for a major competition, the desire to win or place high in a particular ranking, the training becomes serious, more focused, and motivated. The aspect of ranking gives this scenario a serious dynamic. In many sports, there are events that are used for mobility to move an athlete from one level to the next. For example, there may be State level competitions, Regional level competitions, and National level competitions that an athlete must progress through to reach the highest levels of competition. When an athlete fails to reach the next level, there may be a feeling of disappointment and failure.
It is this failure that is so important for almost every athlete to experience. In many cases, this failure makes the athlete realize and analyze the reason for the failure, and it becomes another learning situation. We have all heard the phrase “you learn from your mistakes”, and this is certainly true for anyone who experiences a failure and takes the steps necessary to make sure the same mistakes do not happen again.
In many cases, a disappointing failure is exactly what is needed for someone to become successful. This particular scenario happened to me as a national team athlete. Following the 1984 Olympic success of our men’s gymnastics team, I made the decision to continue with competitive gymnastics and attempt to make the 1988 Olympic team. However, due to our success in 1984, I had taken a step back from a serious training regiment and the effects were apparent the years to follow. In 1986, during the USA National Gymnastics Championships, which ranks the athletes for national team selection, I performed very poorly and was lucky to make the national team. For the first time in 8 years that was the lowest ranking I have experienced, and thus, was not chosen for the high-level national team competitions. I knew that I was a much better athlete then what I had shown and it was the slap in the face that I needed to get back on track. The following year, in 1987, I won the USA National Gymnastics Championships and for the first time in my career, became the All-Around National Champion. I knew this success would not have been possible if I had not experienced that failure the year before.
When a person experiences failure, they should have the support of their family, coaches and peers to help boost morale and confidence. For the athlete, this is a very important issue if the athlete is to continue in a positive manner. I believe one of the worst things that can happen is if a coach or parent degrades & humiliates the athlete because of a failure. This type of attitude can certainly be devastating for the athlete and may even cause a termination of participation. We all Fall once in a while and we need to get back up quickly, but sometimes it takes assistance, and we may need a crutch for a short period of time to help move forward in a positive direction.
It is always great to win and, for most people, miserable to lose. However, we are not always going to win, but hopefully not always going to lose. Every person needs to understand how to win and lose gracefully. Having great sportsmanship is very important in the participation of activities. I believe athletes should be humbled when they have a victory, and they should understand how to take failure with grace. Many people have different definitions for what failure means. I have seen athletes who may come in 2nd place at a competition and they see it as a failure. What needs to be understood is that winning is not easy – in fact, it can be very difficult. There are so many factors that must fall into place perfectly in order for one to be successful and rise above all the others. Such factors as health (being sick), injury, emotions, preparation, etc. can play a large part in the pursuit of success.
There is nothing better than winning, especially if there has been a strong desire and years of hard work to get to that point. Many successful people can look back at what it took to get there, like passion, motivation, sacrifice, patience, and failure. The road to success is usually always bumpy, full of ups and downs, and many detours. Through extreme focus and determination, the path to success can be followed through to completion. It certainly is a choice, and if it is the right choice, you just might Win!!
2 thoughts on “Win or Lose: Sports Learning Curve”
Great info, Scott!