Winning – Losing – How We Play The Game.

Posted: July 13, 2012 in Leadership, Success
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

You hear more and more these days that it’s not important whether we win or lose, but that it’s all about how we play the game. Many people in this camp will tell you that it’s bad to keep score because someone will feel bad and develop poor self esteem if they lose. One the other side, you see people talk about how important it is to win, and that nothing else matters. “Do whatever it takes” they say, and “failure is not an option.”

Are either of these correct, or can there possibly be truth in the middle? I believe  the middle ground is where we should be, and that it is important to realize this if we want success in our life, and in that of our whole society.

Not long ago one my good friends  told me something that should have shocked me more than it did. He said that his son was told in school that it is wrong to try to win, that it’s all about having fun and playing nice with others. They don’t keep score in their games. I was told the same thing by my nephew who goes to a completely different school.

This sounds good on the surface; we want to be having fun and we definitely should play nice. But think about what this really teaches our children; the future leaders in our society.

This goes beyond school. I remember when I used to play baseball (over 15 years ago) and although we at least kept score, I still got a trophy for coming in last place. That trophy looked like the trophy I got the year before when I came in first. I was a winner either way. Again, I ask you to think about what this teaches us as we grow up.

It teaches us not to try hard. If there is no winner or loser then there is no reason to try to win other than personal pride (which is also taught to be bad in many circles.) If you’re not trying to win, then there is no incentive to try hard. In the baseball example, we get the prize no matter how we do, so why put in the effort to win.

It teaches us that it doesn’t matter if we don’t do well, everything will be OK. Look at the baseball example; win or lose we get the prize. This type of thinking causes many problems for our children and society. It leaves them unprepared for the real world where you can suffer great losses. Losses will happen, there is no avoiding it, and they are good to learn from; but we should be doing everything we can to avoid it or reduce it. Ask anyone who has lost their home, had a failed marriage, had to declare bankruptcy… loss hurts

This may sound like I’m against the need to have winners and losers, but it’s important to be able to lose all the same. If we are protected from it altogether, we won’t learn anything and so we won’t grow or improve.

In a business, the problem with this is clear when we look at society today and our economy. If you have a lower chance of failing (like of being fairly certain of getting subsidies and bailouts from the government), you have less incentive to improve or fix any problems. If you lose and get saved from a loss, you have no need to change anything and you’ll let yourself lose again; losing requires no work where changing enough to win does.

Frederic Bastiat says in ‘The Law‘; “Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain—and since labor is pain in itself—it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.” Bastiat wasn’t referring to winning and losing, but the principle of the statement is profound. When he talks of plunder, he is referring to taking from others without doing work on our own. basically he is saying that if you have the choice of either working for something, or getting that something without having to work, people will always choose to get something for nothing. He goes on to say that plunder only stops when it becomes more painful than labor.

We need to be able to lose, but we need to learn to avoid it. for that we need an incentive to not lose, and that means we need to have the ability to win

Society is now full of people who are just trying to be happy without trying to improve anything in their life. They are not taking responsibility for their current state and are blaming someone else, expecting others (usually the government) to save them. If we don’t take responsibility for our life, we can’t do anything to change it.

For that reason, it is important that we keep score in everything we do. Orrin Woodward does a great job on this in his book ‘Resolved‘, and I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already done so.

If you don’t keep score, you will have no way of knowing how you did and where you need to improve. In fact, if your not keeping score, you probably won’t even know that you have anything to improve at all, let alone the specific areas.

Let’s take another school example, and we can even use one where a score is kept – of sorts.

In schools, due to the importance for the school to look like they do a good job teaching, grades get modified. If you happen to have a class full of less than average students, the teachers tend to use the bell curve to make things look good. This has happened to me, and other than my grades looking better I can’t think of any good that came from it. this week one of my friends was telling me about a financial class he took where everyone was failing, including him. Because he was in the middle of that failing crowd he got a C.

Maybe the teacher was grading harder than most and he deserved the C, but without looking at the grades this teacher would have given on an ongoing basis, how can we know? This can hurt down the road when you take a class where you needed to know the previous information, but start to far behind to get anything out of it.

Think of the dangers involved with not properly keeping score like this. What if there was almost a whole class of medical students that were not good, and really didn’t know their stuff but passed anyway due the fudging of the numbers. What if it becomes a generational problem and its not one class room, but all classrooms spanning a few years. I can see this happening if we don’t teach our children to win in life.

Think of what could happen if a doctor got a degree when he really isn’t qualified to give good advice; and doesn’t even know he isn’t qualified! By not knowing this, he has no reason to go out and learn the truth; he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know!

All that being said, winning isn’t everything. How you play the game is also extremely important to be successful all around.

I’m reading the book ‘Wooden‘ about the principles of Coach John Wooden, and I love his take on this matter. He was able to coach UCLA to 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, 7 of which were in a row, but never focused on winning. His goal, and the goal he taught everyone, wasn’t to win, but it was to not fail. He really concentrated on how you play the game. He said you didn’t really fail if you lost a game, you only failed if you didn’t try your hardest. This is what we should be teaching others. We shouldn’t be afraid to let our children lose, worrying about them having low self esteem; we should be teaching them how to handle a loss. We should teach them to have a good attitude.

Win or lose, your attitude is very important. If you lose, learn from it and get better. Know that losing doesn’t make you a failure, only the failure to improve and try again. Re-frame the loss into something good; look at it as a lesson learned. Having a good attitude will also help you build good relationships with the people you play or compete with.

It’s important to play fairly. If you take advantage of others, you again deny yourself the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from which you can improve. You will also burn your relationships with those around you if they don’t like the way you play

Play to have fun. If you’re not having fun at what you’re doing, then others will not have fun doing it with you. If people are not having fun with you, they will avoid you if they can; it is another way of burning relationships.

If your relationships with those you play or compete with go sour, you will not be able to hang around them and learn from them; they will rightfully have no interest in teaching you anything.

So let’s start teaching others to have a good attitude and to have fun. Let’s teach them to learn from their losses, but make sure they always try to win.

Remember is that the best way to teach others is to set a good example.

  1. John Wooden was one of my heroes. I read his book and read everything I could get my hand on about him. Not only was he a great coach but he also was a fine christian man.

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