Feb 27

The Difference Between Winning and Losing

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The Difference Between Winning and Losing

This article is by James Leath, mental conditioning coach and the new social media director and speaker for “Changing The Game Project”. It is published in “Goal Setting, Motivation, Talent Development” (posted October 6, 2015).

The article is modified.

Dialog between Coach and Athlete

“Coach, what is the difference between winning and losing?”

I think for a moment. The movie scene from “White Men Can’t Jump” pops into my head: “Sometimes when you win, you actually lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism from which we can extract what we need.”

Clearing my head and knowing that was probably on his mind for a long time, I respond: “Three inches.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. I waited. I would have waited as long as it took while he tried to figure out what his old coach was trying to tell him.

“Okay, coach, I give in. What does that mean?”

“What does it mean to you?”

Well, since I know you well enough, you are getting deep on me right now, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the scoreboard.”

He knows me well!

“When was your last practice?” I ask.

“Early this morning.”

“Did you run sprints?”

“Yeah, lots.”

“Line to line?”

“Yes, I always touch the line.”

“Does everybody touch the line?”

“No, some guys get close, but they get lazy.”

I wait. I can almost hear the ‘light bulb go on’ through the phone.

“Three inches is about the distance they get to the line!”

“You got it. Winning and losing is not in your control,” I explain.

“Instead of concerning yourself with the score, be a competitor.

Who is coming in first during the sprints? Beat him! Who stays after practice to catch a few more throws? Catch more!

“A competitor does not worry about the scoreboard or stats or social media fans.”

“A competitor shows up to be the best he can be and his hunger for improvement is never satiated.”

We talked for a few more minutes, and then he said he was going to bed.

It was 8:30 pm.

That isn’t a typo! 8:30 pm and this athlete is off to bed, knowing a rested athlete is an effective athlete.

This conversation reminds me of a story told by Bo Eason, the former NFL safety, playing with legendary receiver Jerry Rice. All veterans in training camp would run a quick pass route, turn, catch the pass, run a few steps and jog back to the line. Then, Jerry Rice would go. He would sprint out, turn on a dime, catch the pass, and sprint 80 yards to the end zone. EVERY TIME!

When Eason asked Rice for the reason he did that, he responded, “Every time these hands touch that ball, the ball is going in the end zone.”

Considering Rice scored 197 career touchdowns – forty-one more than second best – it seems like a good strategy to follow. Practice like a champion, and play like a champion!

Developing A Team Of Competitors

Every coach knows that you can lose with great athletes and win with average athletes. The difference is usually the “size of the competitor” inside each athlete.

Here are some tips to increase the “competitive size” of your athletes:

  1. Break up the team into small groups. Give them five minutes to write 10 ways they can personally compete
  2. These must be factors they can control
  3. Share with the team
  4. Watch players and take note on the items that got the most “head nods” from other teammates; that is a signal you don’t want to miss because those athletes know ‘deep down’ they need to do this/these in order to be great.
  5. Take the cards and compile a list on a sheet of paper
  6. Post that list somewhere athletes can see it and challenge them to pick one before every practice, although keeping their choice private (this works best if it is right by the door on the way to practice so they can physically ‘tap’ it to solidify it in their mind).
  7. Tell them that you ask randomly during the post-practice debrief what they chose as their personal challenge that day. Were they successful? Did they follow through? This only works if you, the coach, follows through and asks a few players.
  8. You have to be consistent in your message to create a culture of competitors.
  9. When it comes down to it, champions are made long before the lights are on and crowds are cheering and trophies are awarded.
  10. Everyone is motivated during the big game, but true champions are competitors in practice and in play. They have the “will to compete”, to train, and prepare weeks and months before the match is even played!
  11. The difference between winning and losing is very small. In fact, it’s only about “three inches.”


This article by James Leath, first appeared on his blog at www.jamesleath.com

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