In sport, we are taught from a young age to win at all costs and to avoid losing. Over time this can create an all-or-nothing association between winning and happiness vs. losing and disappointment. While winning feels satisfying, these brief moments of satisfaction can also fuel the belief that it’s only the outcome that matters; let’s explore why winning shouldn’t be your only gauge of success.

Shifting attention away from what’s most relevant to competition RIGHT NOW, athletes can become distracted by predictions of what may, or may not happen in the future like winning or losing. In turn, performance suffers. So what can we do to shift our attention away from the “winning at all costs” mentality?

Redefine Success:

Redefine what success means in general (why do others get to decide what success is?) and determine what success means to you as an athlete. If you are performing as well as you can, but still come up short, is it actually failure? Does beating weaker opponents mean success? Maybe (depending on where you are in your development), but maybe not. Let yourself determine your own measuring sticks. Success should be more than an outcome; success is a process. Are you putting forth your best effort? Are you embracing adversity? Are you growing not only as an athlete, but as a person as well?

Success can be a measurement of your growth and maturation. Developing new skills, bouncing back from failures, and never giving up are all part of being a successful athlete. 

Focus on value driven behaviors:

Focus on what you value most. Ideally, athletes value what’s within their control. Like it or not, the outcome of a competition or game depends partly on uncontrollables, like weather, officials, and whether or not opponents are having a good day. Shifting focus to valued and controllable behaviors makes positive outcomes more likely, and feels more rewarding along the way. Focusing on controllables, like effort, allows athletes to be more free from distractions, enhances decision-making, and allows movement to happen with automaticity and fluidity; of course this has the bi-product of making winning more likely (but not guaranteed). This approach is also more fun.

Sports are always competitive to some degree; that’s one part of the thrill! Winning isn’t everything, it’s just one thing

As the great coach John Wooden once said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”