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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winning & Losing- Learning From Them

An old adage is that losing “builds character.” I am sure this was said by a coach of a team that was struggling, and the coach wanted to give the players a reason to think what they were going through was worthwhile, despite the pain. While I believe “losing builds character” can be true, I tend to feel like there is a better saying:

“Winning and losing can be used to build character.”

I would like to believe the reason sports are in our school system is that the experience of working, goal setting, competing, being a teammate—can all be used as valuable tools to teach important life lessons that often cannot be duplicated in traditional classrooms. And part of my point is that not just losing can be used to “build character.” Winning can be used to teach important character lessons also—things like the value of humility and of sharing success.

Years ago, Joe Campanelli was an AD at Galesburg. He expressed the real value of winning. He said, ”When you win, it allows your players to believe in you, and then it allows you to teach the really important lessons of sports.” I thought that was profound. His point was that as a coach, if you were fortunate enough to win, your obligation was to use your position as coach to teach important lessons to the players. When winning, talk about the importance goal setting has played, importance work ethic has played, importance of unselfishness, importance of self-sacrifice for the team, and many other things. Hopefully players can then take these lessons to other more important areas of their life.

A phrase I have used is, “You are never as good as you think when you win, and never as bad as you think when you lose.” A fatal mistake for a coach is to not pick out errors and develop drills to address weaknesses when the team is winning. And it is often important as a coach to bite your tongue after losses. All too often I have found after I watched the game film, the players played harder than I thought after a loss, and they executed better than I thought.

Gary O’Malley was a sophomore coach for me for several years. He used to believe the time to be tough on players and to “chew them out” was after wins, and the time to give them a pat on the back and some praise was after a loss. Obviously that seems backwards. B.F.Skinner would say that soon you would have the players wanting to lose to get more praise. Gary’s point was that after wins, the players tended to think they were better than they were, and they needed a dose of humility. And after a loss, many of the players thought they were worse than they were, and needed some positives to keep going.

Sometimes when you lose games, it is tough to choose what to focus on. GHS grad and college coach, Jason Shay once told me that he thought high school coaches after losses tended to focus so much attention on the players effort level, and very little attention on the execution of skills and plays. As Jason pointed out, when coaches do that it, it is very easy for the coach to begin to feel there is nothing I can do, the kids just have to change. Jason’s point was to use losses to look at skill problems and then develop the appropriate drills to keep working on skill development. Yes, effort level may be a factor but don’t always pick it as the first thing.

Years ago when I first started coaching, Galesburg hosted a Sectional at Thiel Gym. Richwoods and Limestone played for the championship. Limestone had beaten them in the season but Richwoods pulled off the upset. When the game was over three men from Limestone bolted across the floor and chased the men to the lockeroom. Eventually the police to be called to help the refs get out of town.

Just recently an area coach was quoted in the paper that refs had cheated them.  Personally, there are very few times after a game that I wish I had been more involved watching, talking, and yelling at refs. I had a college coach who seldom if ever got involved with the refs.

The problem with being involved with how the refs are doing- whether it is myself as a coach, or the players, or fans—we make it harder for us to learn some of the lessons that need to be learned in losing. Probably the most basic lesson that can be learned in defeat is through accepting both personal and team responsibility for the outcome. When we become obsessed with the refs, this lesson becomes difficult.

Winning is not always easy to handle either. We have an opponent who when we beat there are 12 players and 3 coaches to shake hands with. When we lose to them, there are 12 players, 3 injured players, 3 managers, 2 stat people, and 6 coaches to shake hands with. It is indeed tough for all of to maintain a balance in response to winning and losing. But I really think that is why sports are such a good “classroom.” All of us involved- coaches, fans, and players- keep working to try to handle the outcome of the contests.

Indeed “winning and losing can build character,” and “winning and losing can also reveal character.”

1 comment:

  1. Well said, absolutely something I will think about, repost and consider as a parent, fan, and coach.