ARE YOU A WINNER?
Are You a Winner?
What does it take to be a winner? Desire? Talent? Hard work? All of the above? Probably all of the above.
Everyone is a winner: This is the motto of the Special Olympics. Do you think it is a joke? Then watch the Special Olympics. You will find out that everyone really is a winner. And that applies to you and me, too.
What is winning about?: Those who do not compete, are they losers, quitters? Probably they are just non-competitive people. Maybe they don't even understand us competitive people. Competition is a way to test yourself, to see how you compare with other competitors. You risk defeat and momentary pain and unhappiness, and you stand to gain a pat on the back, a trophy, a high ranking. In the non-competitive world, you may know that you are the best at what you do. But others may not know it. Competition may gain you recognition, whether that is important or not, or whether that should be important or not.
Winning isn't everything: Another joke? Hey, losing is not the end of the world. Honest. We have to deal with it. Only the very best (or those who don't compete) never lose. The rest of us must deal with it. I heard a championship basketball player say that in order to be the best, basketball has to be the most important thing in life, the rest of your life has to suffer. Is that the price of winning? Is it worth it? Maybe winning must be everything for some people, in order for them to be the best. But I'll bet that doesn't work for everyone, for every championship athlete. I think that most need to relax between games, between tournaments. There is burnout. There is the tension that destroys a person. Earl Anthony was the greatest bowler ever, and was probably very intense while bowling; he had a killer attitude. But otherwise, he seemed to be a very nice person. You can ease up. You can train yourself to regain that winning intensity, when you need it.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser: Leo Durocher said that. Quite a few great athletes are bad losers. Many are good losers, more and more as time goes on. Do you have to be a bad loser (angry, insulting, sulking, crying) in order to win? After the finals of a hockey championship series, the opposing players (who just were trying to bash each other) line up and shake hands. Winning and losing was very important to these guys, and now they shake hands, pat each other on the back, and talk about old times. That is inspirational, in my opinion. Sure losing hurts, for days, or weeks. Some games hurt for years. But you cannot live with that game intensity every minute of every day.
Hate to lose: Everyone hates to lose. The person who always loses hates to lose. The bad losers (previous paragraph) are just the ones who show it, when they do lose.
Talent: Most great athletes are very talented. And yet many of the most talented natural athletes are disappointing. They are up and down, sometimes going all the way to win everything, sometimes losing over and over. There must be more to winning than just talent.
Hard work: Most great athletes will tell you that to get where they are took practice, practice, practice, work, work, work. This is where the rest of life suffers. But you have to build the muscles. You have to train the muscles. You have to learn and maintain the skills. It takes work. Hopefully, the rest of life does not suffer too much.
Desire: Winning takes desire and intensity, too. But many people try to succeed on desire alone. Desire can work wonders. But it can let you down, if not backed up by hard work.
Confidence: Winners are often confident that they will win. There is an intimidating arrogance or pride which helps winners to win. I know that I am going to win, and my opponent knows it too.
Pressure: A winner has to deal with pressure. You have to train yourself to deal with the pressure. You get good enough to get to the championships over and over. And the natural pressure of this event will help train you for future events. It may take time. Some people feel that there must be pressure, and they will provide it for you. Parents are validated through their children's victories. The home town crowd lives and dies when the local team wins and loses. I don't like these outside pressures. Midori Ito apologized to Japan for not winning a gold medal; Japan should apologize to her for putting that kind of pressure on her. If the athlete needs pressure to win, then the athlete should provide that pressure (through desire). The natural pressure of tough opponents in a championship competition should be the only major outside pressure on the athlete, in my opinion. Added outside pressure only destroys.
Deal with anger: A friend of mine got violent and threw things when things did not go right with his bowling. It was frightening and embarrassing. And it was educational, because his anger over the last failure affected his future performance. He threw a bad ball, and in anger threw another bad ball. That is foolish. Some people may actually need to blow their tops to let off steam. It may be bad to keep the anger bottled up. But the anger should go away. As a serious athlete, you must be ready to go again.
Never say die: Never give up. OK, when there is no longer a mathematical chance of winning, then you can let up and give up. But if there is the smallest chance of coming back, then you can come back. You see it very often in professional sports. The best teams and players do not give up. And they sometimes (not always) come back from sure defeat. They didn't know it was sure defeat. The other team is ahead 50 to nothing; hey we can do that too.
No excuses: I was injured, or distracted, or tired, or had a bad partner. That is all probably true. That is why I lost. But, if I really believe that, then I was probably ready with that excuse, all along. I didn't try very hard because I had a ready excuse. No, don't have an excuse ready, as that destroys. And don't make excuses afterwards; no whiners. Say, "Nice game," whether you mean it or not. Try to mean it.
Lose and then win the next game: Winning seems like everything. But you just lost (maybe the first game of the World Series). Well the real winners just win the next one. What is wrong with that? You can lose games and still win the championship, or whatever place is left. You can come back.
Feeling sorry for the opponent: Sometimes it hurts to win. Look what you are doing to your opponent. Then it is time to get out and not compete. There is a kind of justice to competition. I win because I did better (maybe with some luck), and my opponent lost because he made mistakes. Fine, over a period of many many games, justice prevails. I continue to try to win, even though it hurts my opponent. And he tries to do the same to me.
In the zone: We all (really) have been in the zone, every once in a while. This is when everything goes right, you can't miss. You cannot make this happen. You cannot predict it. You can just go with it, when it does happen. This is one of the rewards of competition.
Don't cheat: Many people have won by cheating. But cheating cheapens and invalidates the win. Cheating does not pay. If you cheated to win, then you did not win. You know that.
If you're the underdog: What if the other guy is better? You can still win, of course. You hear sports commentators asking "Can you beat Pete Sampras?" The tennis player being interviewed shows surprise at the stupid question, "Of course I can beat him. Why am I playing otherwise? Maybe I won't win, but I can." If you're the underdog, there may be a kind of immediacy to the situation, a state of near panic. If the other guy gets ahead, you gotta catch up, right away. And if you find yourself in this state of panic, then you probably do consider yourself the underdog.
I don't believe in that. I believe that I'm here to win, no matter who I'm playing. I am not the underdog, I'm as good as this guy (at this moment), although I am probably the only person who knows that. If he gets ahead, so what? I will come back eventually, and win. There is no immediacy, no panic (usually), until I am actually defeated. But I often do defeat the "better player."
Many competitors (true winners among them) "play for the tie" when behind. In baseball this would be playing to tie, and go into extra innings. The idea is that the chances of losing are greater if you go for the win. You will deal with the situation, once you are tied.
Aggressiveness: Normally, a winner is aggressive. He/she will try very hard to win, and will not ease up much when ahead. He/she knows all too well that the opponents can come back from near defeat. When ahead, some will play a safer, more defensive game. Others feel that that is a mistake. But you don't take foolish risks when ahead. Sometimes it is hard to avoid accusations that you are pouring it on. In team sports, coaches often bring in the subs to avoid that charge, and in order to give the subs some needed experience.
Justice: There is no justice in sports. Well, there is, a lot of the time. But if you think that you will win because you are better or because you did everything right, or that you will lose because the other guy is a god, then you are a loser. You will win by outscoring your opponent, with luck or because of his/her mistakes. They give you the opportunity to win, then beat 'em. I didn't deserve to win? I deserved it as much as they did.
Your job: Your job is to win, right? Well sort of, your job is to win this point, or throw that ball, or hit that ball. One step at a time. Concentrate on performing the immediate task. So what if you just goofed up four times in a row. You do what is necessary, now. If you are thinking, "I failed in the past; I'm going to fail now," then go home and don't compete. I'm not saying that it is bad to lose. Instead it is bad to give up when you still have a chance.
Second best: The team that loses the Superbowl or the World Series is considered a bunch of losers, and they feel like losers. Hey, they are second best among many other teams who didn't even come close. The big winners did take first. I'm not satisfied with second, especially when the game is not yet over, but second place is pretty darned good.
Distractions: You have to deal with distractions. Sometimes the distractions defeat you, sometimes you succeed despite the distractions. I was shooting pool and someone shouted "Jim!" in the middle of my shot, and I missed and lost. They were shouting at some other Jim. That's the way it goes; beat 'em next time. It is just one of the many ways that luck affects the game.
Luck: I like to joke that winning is 50% skill, 50% mental, and 50% luck. There is an old saying, "The good player is always lucky." You make your luck, and you deal with it, good or bad.