We’re all winners?

I’m in my second year of coaching girl’s basketball for the YMCA (coaching my daughter’s team with another guy).

At a recent coach’s meeting, the director of the program went over the YMCA’s core values with us. Within the information that was shared was the phrase made popular in one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes – “You’re all winners!”

I understand what the Y is trying to do with that approach. Having children with high self esteem who feel like they’re contributing is certainly a solid goal. But I think the wording of the philosophy hurts their cause.

Instead of “You’re all winners,” I would change it to “You’ve all got the potential to be winners.” (It’s certainly not as short and catchy, but I think far more accurate.)

The obvious retort to “you’re all winners” is, “if we’re all winners, than there can’t be any losers.” But going beyond that…

To say all of the girl’s on my team are winners implies that all they had to do was show up and they were immediately winners. But that’s not how winning works. Winning is achieved by, among other things, hard work, dedication, practice, being responsible (to yourself, your coach and the team) and a certain level of innate talent.

The idea that “you all have the potential to be winners” inherently says that if you work hard and apply yourself to practicing the skills necessary to be good, you can achieve greatness and earn victory. You may not achieve it, but you give yourself your best possible chance to win.

But if you show up and just expect to win, screw around and distract others during practice and don’t put in any extra time, you won’t win and you are not, I would argue, a “winner.”

The best part about working hard and putting everything into the game is the feeling of satisfaction that comes with knowing you trained hard, prepared and earned the victory – or at least put everything you had into it, tried the best you could and simply lost to someone better. If you give it everything you have, then even if you lose, you can be proud of your work (even if disappointed).

And possibly more importantly, if you work hard and still lose, you will most likely learn some very important lessons that can be applied to the next game, the game after that and maybe even the rest of your life.

This is where good coaches can help, too. If your team loses, it’s up to the coach to help players identify areas of weakness that need work. Maybe you learn that you’ve been putting too much time into the wrong skills. Maybe you learn a new way to practice. Failing usually brings with it some valuable lessons. It just requires the courage to open your mind, understand why you failed and work toward overcoming it.

– My name is Jon Friesch, and I know I’ve tasted success because I know the taste of failure. (They’re not the same.)

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