Is winning everything?

Posted on May 15, 2011


My assignment this week for my sports psychology course was to write a 1,000-word essay on our thoughts re the saying ‘Winning is Everything’

… a 1000 word post to read I hear you cry?!?

Yes – sorry!

But I have firm views on this and want to share them.

This familiar quote has haunted many from all four corners and from every generation yet despite having won many a medal and trophy in my time, across a multitude of sports, my thoughts lie with those of Zig Ziglar:

“Winning is not everything, but the effort to win is.”

I often say I am hugely uncompetitive, but that’s not strictly true. I have no interest in where I place amongst others but I am fiercely competitive with myself. I want to try my best and fulfill my potential. If I walk away from a race having given it my all, I couldn’t give two hoots if I am last to cross the finish line. But if I walk away feeling like I didn’t give 110% on any given day and any given circumstances, I have only let myself down and there’s no turning back from that feeling.

But back to the beginning and the origins of the saying;

“Winning isn’t everything … it’s the only thing” has for over 45 years been attributed to Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packer football team and the man for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named.

BUT … he never actually said this!

What he did say is “winning isn’t everything – but wanting to win is.”

The misquote comes from a 1953 Hollywood film called ‘Trouble Along the Way’ and some how the line got attributed to Lombardi (he thereafter spent the rest of his life attempting to correct the mistake with sports commentators and writers alike!)

Whatever the roots though, the idea has dominated countless coaches and parents thinking to the extent that temporary setbacks or troughs in performance are just not tolerated and our higher sense of self is ignored in order to achieve.

I guess it all comes down to the real purpose behind sport and competition. In my eyes it is down to love, 100% from the heart.

Every time you step onto a field in a team sport, your chances are 50/50. This is a simple truth. The world is composed of opposites … hot and cold, up and down, win and lose and so on. You cannot therefore have one without the other. Without an opponent we don’t even get to play the game.

So how do we operate then in this world of duality? In other words, how do we succeed instead of fail when it comes to sport? The answer lies in our higher sense of self. There is a greater part of us that knows how to see it for what it is and what it is not. We are far more than just winners or loser’s … rather, we are the creators of our own destinies. And depending on how we observe the workings of our own thoughts and the feelings they create we can see the good in both the winning and the losing.

Many countries have understood and followed this concept for generations hence the reference to sports as the ‘arts’ … martial arts for example. A competition or race does not begin with hatred for your opponent and the goals are not to annihilate or destroy them. Instead the goal is to honor and respect them. Without them the artist cannot demonstrate their skills full stop.

The competition then is based on both opponents giving 100% and enjoying the chance to compete. The winning or losing comes almost secondary.

Back to what Lombardi really did say … that wanting to win is everything … this shows great power in attention and intention. There is little point in participating in any sport, in making any of the sacrifices that are required, particularly when at a high level, unless you are giving your absolute best … to win or to succeed. But if the outcome is that we do not win, it is not failure. It is experience. It is an opportunity to learn. It is a chance to make better and in turn to grow.

Children from the youngest of ages must be instilled with a sense of passion for sport and activity and an understanding of true sportsmanship. They will not win every time but they will never regret trying their hardest. They should play with their hearts and embrace the joys of competition … the final score is not their reward but the feelings they have as they leave are. Teaching children that winning is everything will only result in excluding those who are not the best and this is certainly not a reflection of true sportsmanship.

I often think that running and indeed sport in general is a fantastic metaphor for life. If you play your best or run your hardest, if you give it your all and love what you do, there are only winners and champions. The numbers on the scoreboard of the times on the screen are by the by.

As I said before, 100% from your heart; just let it take over from your head. It is your head that has the ego and your head that takes winning or losing personally. Your heart on the other hand just goes with the flow and embraces the joys of sport and the feelings it brings. It is your heart that gets you back on the field after a losing streak, it is your heart that tells you those sacrifices are worthwhile, it is your heart that keeps you running and not giving up.

Love then is the ‘everything’ and winning a derivative. The greatest winners in sport, and indeed life, are those that are doing what they truly love.

So these are my thoughts, this is what I wholly believe. There are of course those who think that nobody remembers who came second and I don’t dare deny that many a sportsman has come first thanks to their sheer focus and determination to coming first. Indeed, if you look at countries where winning is deemed as everything, old Eastern Bloc nations for example where the Political environments have pushed this idea, these populations have been highly successful in the arena of sport.

I guess then there is no right or wrong; for some, the idea of winning being everything can be used effectively as a motivational tool, for those who will respond to it. It is up to a sports psychologist, coach and or the sportsmen themselves to identify whether this is the best approach for that individual.

But for me? Never.

I will forever run with my heart and not my head.

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