“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”-Henry Russel Sanders
Now I know what you’re probably thinking, “Who is that guy? That is definitely a Vince Lombardi Quote.” And you’d be right there with me up until I researched that quote for this post. It’s actually a quote that Vince Lombardi reused originally said by Henry Sanders the UCLA football coach in the 1930s. Lombardi first used this quote in the 1960s. So, why do I start of a post entitled “Win or Get Better” with a quote about winning being the most important thing, I’m glad you asked!
I chose to start with this quote because when I was a younger athlete I thought winning was everything. I wanted to compete in anything I could, gym class, school, sports, and life in general. We all grow up being encouraged to have the “competitive spirit” but how do we measure success? Typically we use others as our measuring stick. “He’s doing better than me right now so I need to do what he’s doing!” “She’s got more money than me so I need to get her job!” and so on and so forth. Being competitive isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but making it ALL ABOUT WINNING is bad. When you are so focused on winning you actually typically revert to a primal human motivations as stated by John Locke: the promise of pleasure or the avoidance of pain (Check out Locke’s Ethics here).
The point here, when you focus on the success, the winning, the money, you will do all you can to seek the pleasure that comes with winning, while avoiding the pain of losing. This is why many don’t do a lot of things, even if they’re beneficial. Because the downside risks seem scarier than the upside. It is FEAR that prevents success, nothing else. Some even define FEAR as an acronym False Events Appearing Real. When you are so focused on success you skip steps, you will do whatever it takes to get it. When you focus on the process, success will come, as will the ability to withstand set backs, to persevere through hard times, and truly achieve greatness. Returning to Vince Lombardi, he actually stated that he was misquoted in saying what he said, that what he truly meant to say was “Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is the only thing.” Meaning, what is more important is the desire to do well and compete, NOT THE RESULT. When you focus on what gets you to the results rather than the results itself, not surprisingly the results come. Try to bake a cake without eggs, you will not have a cake as you anticipated it, you’ll get an entirely different result. Now, you have the eggs but you have spoiled eggs, again very different result than you craved. NOW, you shopped for fresh ingredients, hired a baker to help you, and made the best cake you’ve ever had! That is what happens when you focus on the process, not the results. Now, for another quote by one of the most well known individuals in all of human history.
“I never lose. Either I win or I learn”-Nelson Mandela
At Centurion I tell my athletes a lot of things, Win or Get Better is one of the most important. In athletics there are too many who prioritize winning. You become so fixated on your goals (the good) that you begin to not be able to handle the bad (losses). The facts are this, every athlete in the history of the world will experience a loss at some point. That loss may not be athletics exactly but at some point they will lose. Failure is our first teacher, and it never leaves our side as we grow. From birth we learn by FAILING. You can constitute many things as success but at the end of the day success is merely the overcoming of failure and obstacles. Prime example, learning to walk!
When we are mere infants we must learn how to walk. Our family may help us, but no matter what they do the process has been the same since humans have been around. You pull yourself to your feet, you waddle a couple steps, AND YOU FALL OVER! Humans are not a species that comes out walking, in fact we’re not really self sustaining for many years of our lives (thank you to all the parents, the real heroes) so we must learn many things. When we first get to school, we are taught not by what we did correctly, but what we did wrong. You don’t get the correct answers on the test commented on and highlighted, you get the incorrect ones. This helps you learn from your mistakes and improve. If you tried to focus on just what you did right you would never improve. My point here, WE LEARN BY LOSING. As Nelson Mandela said “I never lose. Either I win or I learn.” I love this quote but I modify it for a very specific reason, ATHLETES HATE THE WORD LEARN!! I don’t know what it is but learn makes kids think of school, or lessons, they just don’t seem to grasp it, so I say “Win or get better.” In life as well as athletics we learn by failing, taking the shot, lifting too heavy, spending money on something dumb and many other lessons. We don’t learn from our success typically, we learn from our adversity, our losses, and our mishaps. Steel is forged in fire after all! What I am really trying to get at here is that to be great at anything you need to reframe your thinking to the idea that there is no losing, there is no failing, only Win or Get Better, Success or Improvement, Victory or lessons. Now, let me give you another amazing quote by a noted failure who you are impacted by every single day!
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”-Thomas Edison
A great Jersey Boy, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb as we know it today. Edison was an inventor, a scientist, and a failure. He failed nearly 10,000 times trying to invent the incandescent light bulb. Imagine, trying and trying again and again and having the things not work. The time, the money, and the effort. Wouldn’t all feel useless? Would you be beaten down? Would you give up? I am sure that Edison thought about that many times. After all the definition of insanity is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. However, Edison wasn’t trying the same thing each time, what he did was fail, learn, and try again. He adapted, he tried a new way, most of all HE GOT BETTER. After failing 100 times I am sure Edison thought about giving up on that invention. After 1,000 failures I am sure his friends, family and colleagues were encouraging him to give it up. After 9,995 times they were probably abandoning him, giving up on him for not quitting. But after 10,001 they definitely celebrated with him and lauded his accomplishment. Edison never looked at himself as a loser, he never saw his failed attempts as something to be upset about, merely something to learn from, and learn he did. Without his love of the hunt for success, the will to trust the process, and his desire to learn more each time some one else would’ve invented the light bulb, someone who would be willing to stick it out. Now, ask yourself, are you willing to do the hard things for what you want? I know I have questioned myself thousands of times. We all doubt, we all feel inadequate at times, the key to overcoming this is simple, but not easy. Learn to love the process, and forget the results.
“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”- John C. Maxwell.
John C. Maxwell is an author of countless self help books that I believe should be on every single person’s reading list, or if you’re like me and like Audiobooks, Audible Library. Maxwell’s novel that I’ve enjoyed the most is titled “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success” If you have not read this I highly recommend it, you can order a copy on Amazon for lesson than $20, it’s just around 200 pages so relatively short compared to my posts, but it truly is a great novel to help reframe the thinking of a person at any age. Now anyway back to the post. Maxwell and many authors I have read or listened to that quote Maxwell encourage a concept calling Failing Forward. Most recently I have heard this term mentioned a lot by one of my favorite authors and former US Navy Seal Mark Divine. His books are all about mindsets, mental toughness, etc. Surprising coming from one of the most impressive US Special Forces I know. But I love this concept in my own life but also in the application to athletics and coaching. Even as a coach I fail a lot, I fail in how I teach, make decisions in matches that impact my athlete, and I fail kids in other ways as well. However, I make it a goal to never make the same mistake twice, or to at least correct what I can if I do make a similar mistake. I fail and I learn from it.
Failing forward means to do something worth doing even at risk of NOT BEING SUCCESFUL. If I go out and apply for a job that is way above my skill level but somehow get the interview and then BUTCHER the interview obviously I am not going to get that job. However, I could kill the interview and just as likely not get the role due to my qualifications. BUT! If after the interview I butcher I ignore it, forget it, and never think about it again I am no better off. If after the interview I did well in yet don’t get the role I again ignore it, forget it and move on I am just as bad as if I butchered it. If after both interviews I approach the prospective employer and ask for ways I can improve for next time, tips for boosting my skillset, or generally anything that will help me next time around I will be immensely better off. Hell, it might even land me the job just because I did these extra steps to improve. Now, a mindset of defeat, of zero sum, or Win/Lose. I might not care about improving, I might solely focus on sulking that I didn’t get the job, that I got screwed because I am too young, too inexperienced etc. Wrestlers and athletes of all sports do this all the time. We’ll blame anyone but ourselves, trust me I HAVE DONE IT! At the end of the day, we can sulk or we can improve. Win or Get Better!
“Goggins is back on the log.”- Quote from Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
If you have not heard of David Goggins I am a tad bit shocked but let me fill in the gap if not, he is a former US Navy Seal/Army Ranger that is now an Ultramarathon runner (100mile + races) and owned the record for most pull ups done in a 24 hour span. He really is just an all around bad man. His memoir Can’t Hurt Me is another MUST READ. It is all about his life, growing up in a troubled home, dealing with so many different issues but most of all about his life as he pursued his dream of being a Navy Seal. He failed to pass SEAL training 2 times, you are only allowed 3 attempts. He shares many stories but one of my personal favorites is a story about one of his workouts. The SEALs were doing a workout where they had to carry a log over head and run all over, on the beach, on the road, over the obstacle course just crazy things that go into one of the best military force in the entire world. But, the story is made better by the fact that Goggins was so beaten and injured that the instructors were told to stop him and remove him from the training. But he wanted it so bad, he loved the training and the process so much that they kept hearing over the radio “Goggins is back on the log.” Even at the risk of his own health he would not accept defeat. He wouldn’t relent. Someone results driven might do this, they might think “if I just get through this I am good” but Goggins didn’t see it that way. He wanted to do it to prove it to HIMSELF. He didn’t care about the injury, he didn’t care about instructors yelling at him that he would never make it, he knew in his mind he was gonna do it, or die trying. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not nearly as badass as David Goggins, very few people on this planet are, but he really is a testament to the power of human will. The overwhelming power of self believe and the desire to succeed so bad you’ll endure any hardship. This is a Win or Get Better mindset at work.
“Let me Preface: Win or Get Better is not Ra Ra Yuppie Stuff”-Coach Higgins
I will end this post with this last little bit. I hope I made this clear in my writing above but if not I will summarize it as best I can here. I am not teaching this mindset as this excuse mechanism. I am not trying to make it seem like I think everyone is a winner, frankly I don’t believe that at all. I am extremely competitive still, I want to succeed, I want to be the best I can be. However, my competition is not with other people, it’s strictly and 100% only with myself. I want to be better than I was yesterday, I want success because I want to show myself that I can do it, live a life I desire because I want to EARN IT. I understand now more than ever that these things do not come easy. That nothing in this life is freely given that is worth having. Life offers no guarantees other than death and taxes. I teach Win or Get Better because it is a mindset I myself have applied and still apply throughout my life. I am not the most accomplished wrestler ever, I was not a 4.0 GPA student, I am not the perfect person. Never have been, never will be, and if I ever pretend to be, shoot me cause that is a robot. I teach Win or Get Better because I believe that too many young athletes are so pressured to win they forget that there’s more to life than just success. Perfection is not achievable, some levels yes, but total perfection is not, to seek that is to destroy yourself. I have learned in my life to take the good and the bad, and to balance them. Not prioritize the good too much, and don’t give too much weight to the bad, merely to learn from both. So, to wrap this all up, Win or Get better is simple to apply, change your frame of thinking to focus on the process, improvement, and failing forward. Do these things and I promise success will come, but only if you adhere to them and persevere through hardships. Elon Musk is top 2 richest man in the world and he has had tons of rocket ships blow up on him, he is still launching them. The best hitter in baseball history Ty Cobb batted .366 in his career, that means he only hit the ball 36 times out of 100, that means he failed 64 times out of 100, but he kept swinging the bat. You have to keep swinging to hit the ball. To be the best you have to Win or Get Better.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed, if you are a parent please share this with your athlete if they can understand it, if you are the athlete, please learn to apply this, if you are neither please consider sharing it so it might help someone else out! All the best- Coach Patrick Higgins.