Sometimes it takes more than your “best effort” to get what you want. As Louisville Women’s Basketball Coach Jeff Walz talks about after a loss, you have to have the will to do better; to be better in order not to lose. And, as anyone who knows me can attest to, I hate to lose. Noon ball – I lose a game, I’m pissed. Darts – I’m pissed. Knock-out – I’m pissed. Races – I’m pissed. And, in order to not be pissed at myself, I work to find a way to win (within the rules and guidelines).
I am in sport because I am a competitor, and as a competitor, I understand that there are winners and there are losers.
There, I said it.
Now, coaching in this era, we have lost our way on this simple previously agreed upon rule.
These days athletes are more knowledgeable about the sport – training, tactics, etc – each passing year than the previous (Reminder: We are now in the Age of Information) and therefore think they know everything it takes to be successful thinking that only technique or tactic results in wins. Coaches regurgitate what other great coaches say without really exploring the “whys” and lose sight that you need to find your own way to be successful with your group of unique athletes (and they all aren’t the next LeBron, Dez, or Usain Bolt – trust me) thinking that the more they know about tactics and technique will automatically convert L’s to W’s.
In order to get what we want, we have to constantly ask, “What does it mean to be successful and how do you facilitate yourself or others to be such?”
I can tell you this much, it doesn’t start with telling athletes good job, even when they haven’t given their best performance.
I remember looking at an athlete that I worked with (key word “with” – as in, “in it together” because coaches don’t run races or shoot basketballs) who ended up winning a national title. Their freshman year, in a championship race, they ran the worst tactical race they had all season. Everyone else said, “good job!”, “it’s ok”, and I was so furious they were providing positive feedback because I did not want to reinforce to them, and more importantly the entire team, that it’s ok to perform poorly at championship races. Giving a stern look at them and I shook my head no. We didn’t do it. WE.
My suggestion of tactics into a head wind into the first 200m wasn’t the best and their understanding of what I wanted tactically and their execution wasn’t their best, which compounded to be the slowest mark of their season. Of course, said athlete was not happy with me that I was disappointed, and to tell you the truth, there was a part of me that felt uncomfortable that I made them uncomfortable but I think the lesson and the resultant behavior for both that athlete and the rest of the team was worth it.
And, that lesson is this…it’s ok to hate to lose; to dislike not doing it right.
A culture of competition and winners and losers has to be actively created today to give coaches the opportunity to model and discuss how to win and lose with humility, respect for your opponent, and to stoke the fire that, “I’m not losing next time!”. This also means that we must consider allowing feelings for disappoint, uneasiness, for “that wasn’t good enough”, pain, suffering, and most importantly of failure to be present at every training session.
Now, each coaches recipe for how this is fulfilled is different. Some use negative reinforcement, some use positive reinforcement, while others use a combination depending on the context and the athlete. I believe it is created by holding athletes accountable for their choices.
You’re not allowed to finish at the finish line – we compete to 2m past the line.
You’re not allowed to repeat the same mistake over and over and over again – we problem-solve and adapt.
You’re not allowed to give up because it’s not your favorite event, exercise, etc – we face it head on and get comfortable with our friend FEAR.
You’re not allowed to only like to Win – we hate to lose.