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Oct 01

The Concept of Winning – Part 1

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Your coaching philosophy and the way you view athletes may have a lot to do with your interpretation and approach to competition. This is difficult to realize at times because our North American society “thrives” on being competitive (Coakley, 1998). Someone asked me not too long ago ”What do you want me to do? Tell the kids to go out and lose?” Of course not! Everybody wants to be a ‘winner’ but the process of winning, and learning how to win is the critical issue here. Coaches should never become so preoccupied with individual victories to the exclusion of an outstanding performance. For example, a US decathlon champion in the 1970s set a personal goal to break the world record. He did just that but “only won the silver medal in 1976.” Did this make him a loser – having achieved his lifetime dream? We really need to keep winning in the proper perspective and remind ourselves that in the bigger scheme of life there will be many victories and there will be many defeats. One has to learn to master the outcomes of such events and learn to accept the results for what they teach us. I probably learned more from my defeats than my victories throughout my career as an athlete and as a coach.
The concept of winning is foremost shaped as an attitude toward self and others (the competitors). Winning or losing is a psychological and highly emotional and often dramatic aspect in sport. That takes emotional and social maturity – not only physical and cognitive maturity. That is the real reason sport sociologists, educational and sport psychologists such as Tutko, Martens, Ogilvie and Orlick discourage early specialization in sports as well as the overemphasis of winning for children in organized sports. They advocate not only skill development, but also cognitive, emotional, psychological, as well as social and moral growth. The FUN, Fitness and Fundamental approach should be the focus of a program throughout the formative years (Schloder & McGuire, 1998).
The concept of winning and losing is complex and has to be fully understood by sports participants and children need to learn about the nature and the ‘mind set’ of competition. “Victory is always victory over someone; defeat is forever incurred at the hands of someone else. That can not be changed” (Morgan & Meier, 1988, 1995). Young participants should be introduced to the winning process through ‘self-testing,’ in essence through achievement orientation (Morgan & Meier, 1988; Coakley, 1998). While this provides a basis for contests, the act of testing per se is independent from competitive acts. According to Morgan and Meier, 1988, learning “X” about my skills does not have to stand in relation to another person’s “X” to discover how I am doing. We are inferring here that the child is able to determine whether or not he/she is successful without making reference to victories or defeat. The child is a so-called “human singularity” when he/she measure respective skills through self-testing or challenges. The chances to “test myself allows me to try and I have choices: ‘Yes (I try) or No (I won’t).”
Self-testing can be set up to vary in degree of difficulty, depending on the level of each child. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the child is not yet openly ‘vulnerable to the community’ (public display) as in the case of a contest or competition (Morgan & Meier, 1988). There is no reason to be afraid of competing because of potential embarrassment in front of family members, friends or peers. This chance of self-testing was explained by famous tennis player Billie Jean King. She reported that at times she became totally involved with the test of tennis and forgot about the relative status of her opponent. “The ball never comes across the net the same way twice. It is a terrifically interesting to deal with the forever new features of the problem.” How her opponent was faring was, at least momentarily, irrelevant to her. “King’s competitor was supplying her with a very rich test, whether or not a contest was being carried out” (Morgan & Meier, 1988, p. 227). In contrast to King’s approach, “Mac the Brat” (John McEnroe) was famous for his temper tantrums on the courts. Swedish tennis player Bjorn Borg as a 12-year old once threw his racquet in disgust. His mother took action by removing his racquet for 6 months in an attempt to teach him acceptable sportsmanship and conduct.

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