CoachingHigh School SportsParenting

Legendary NFL coach John Madden was once asked about the importance of winning in professional football. His answer is one of my favorite quotes:

“I’ve always said winning’s the great deodorant, and conversely, when you have a bad record, everything stinks, and everything starts to unravel, and everything falls apart.”

I love this quote because it is so true, and winning can be the best deodorant. Winning tends to mask things that stink, to bring positive vibes to a group, less finger pointing, and more acceptance of team roles, playing time, and more. After all, it is hard to argue with results, and certainly at the professional level of sports coaches are paid to win. That is what you will always be judged upon. We always want positive vibes on our teams, and players bought in to the culture and the plan.

Yet I also see a sinister side to this quote, often at the youth levels, where winning tends to mask lack of development, poor coaching, playing, and parent behaviors, lack of playing time for certain players, and more. “But we won the league” or “Well, we won the tournament” is used as an excuse for not giving children meaningful playing time, promoting athleticism over skill development, and coaching through fear based manipulation. So many coaches and clubs are willing to compromise so much to win, as it tends to get most parents, ADs and coaching directors off their back. Sure, a few kids may quit, but they are the weaker players. We get so many calls about this scenario, and we must do better.

Yet there is another behavior that winning can cause that we must explore. Winning can also lull a coach into looking less critically at wins than losses, and missing opportunities to improve their teams and their own coaching in the process. It can cause players to ignore deficiencies in their game, teams to ignore areas for growth, and cause complacency where attention to detail is needed. Its OK to say “well, at least we pulled that one out when we were not at our best” once in a while, but if we are saying that game after game our opponents will eventually pass us by.

It is the beginning of the college sports season, and I have been working with multiple Fall sports coaches and their teams. Each one of these teams could be undefeated at this point. Two of them are, and others have lost a few games they could have easily won. It is amazing the difference in conversations I have with coaches and teams that lost despite a performance with enough good moments to win, versus a team that found a way to win in spite of many poor moments. John Madden is right. The vibe is totally different. There is less finger pointing. There is more acceptance of roles and playing time when the team does not lose. It is very interesting. And the coaches on the undefeated teams have to constantly challenge themselves to be critical in their analysis of the game.

In one conversation with an undefeated staff, the head coach said something that put a huge smile on my face. “We made a commitment as a staff, to our team, that we are going to analyze and break down every game like we lost,” she said. “We are going to challenge ourselves individually and collectively in the same manner no matter the result. Coaches and athletes. That is our commitment to each other and our commitment to improvement.”

That is a championship behavior. That is coaches modeling championship behaviors for their athletes. That is the kind of technical, tactical and emotional consistency that athletes crave; not too high at the highs and not too low at the lows. No entitlement. No loss of humility. Just excellence.

So whether you are a parent or a coach reading this, do your utmost to ensure that when you win, you harness those positive vibes, but that you do so in conjunction with a beginners mindset, no complacency, and a commitment to improvement regardless of the score. And, if you are in a situation where everything is compromised in order to win, ask yourself is this really the type of environment I want my child in, or I want to coach in?

Here is to a season with enough stink in it to see growth, development, and smiling faces for every athlete.


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