This familiar quote has haunted me throughout all my years as a coach, and I suspect I’m not alone. In case you’re reading this and have no idea where this quote came from, let me give you a bit of history. The saying “Winning isn’t everything…it’s the only thing” has been attributed for more than 45 years to the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers football team, the man named after the Super Bowl trophy; the great Vince Lombardi. Newsflash: He never said it; what he did say is “winning is not everything, but wanting to win is”. The misquote comes from a Hollywood production starring John Wayne and Donna Reed, titled “Trouble Along the Way” (Warner Brothers 1953) which was filmed in black and white and was a story in which Wayne plays a coach and a single father with one daughter. at a private Catholic university and Donna Reed, a social worker concerned about the boy. In the movie, a game is being played while Donna Reed and the girl are in the stands watching a scene. The scene switches between shots of the Duke strolling along the sideline barking plays and cheering for his team, then a pair of priests waving school colors, and finally Donna Reed and the girl who appears to be between 10 and 12 years. old. Donna Reed is commenting to the girl that she hopes the children will enjoy the game and give it their all or something, when the girl responds with the phrase… “well, you know what father (so-and-so) always says ….”Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This line came from a Hollywood production from the mouth of a fictional 10 year old character. Somehow this line was attributed to Vince Lombardi (some say due to to his religious affiliation with the Catholic Church) and spent the rest of his life until his last days trying to correct that mistake with sportscasters and writers.
I suspect, like many others, that this type of thinking—that winning is the only thing—has dominated the way many coaches and parents view competitive sports, and when our children, our school team, or ourselves aren’t winning at all competitions. then there must be something wrong. Is it possible that something more is being gained that at the moment neither I as a father nor I as a coach can capture in my moment of temporary regression? It’s the notion of winning all the time that’s so ingrained in our society that we do all sorts of things, including ignoring our higher sense of self to achieve it. Sometimes we are willing to do “whatever it takes,” even if it means not doing the right thing. Confused yet? Of course we do because, unfortunately, once we remove the “winning is everything” mentality, we are forced to look elsewhere for the true purpose of these competitions. By looking, the answer I have discovered is not in my head. It’s really in the heart with a capital H, and I’ll come back to that in a minute.
If you consider winning and losing as a whole, the fact is that every time you step on a field, your chances are 50/50. This is a simple truth, the world as we perceive it, is made up of a set of opposites, heat vs. cold, up vs. down, win vs. lose, etc. everything in creation is a world of duality. In fact, you cannot experience one without the other. Imagine living with only daylight? Just darkness? One complements the other. Without sadness, this is not joy. Without an opponent, we can’t play the game. So how do we operate then in this world of duality? Also, where do we put our attention to succeed instead of fail? Also, more specifically, how do we participate in competitive sports? The answer lies in our higher sense of self. There is a greater part of us that knows how to take all this duality and see what it is and what it is not. We are much more than winners or losers in this game! We are, in fact, the creators of our own destinies. And depending on how we notice and observe the workings of our own thoughts and the feelings they create, we can see the good in both winners and losers. We can experience both the good and the bad of winning and losing, and not forget about ourselves. This is not a new concept, Eastern forms of competition have been teaching this for thousands of years; they even refer to their sports as “arts” as in martial arts. Whose objectives are not to annihilate or destroy opponents but to honor, respect and love them. The realization is that without an opponent, the artist has no way to demonstrate the skills he has mastered. The competition is based on both opponents doing their best, giving 100% and enjoying the opportunity to compete. It is not in winning or losing but in competing that the athlete / artist can demonstrate the level of mastery of it. Vince Lombardi’s correction of the famous misquote “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” It has a very subtle but powerful distinction of winning is the only thing. That distinction lies in the power of our attention and intention. Why participate in an activity unless you do it to the best of your ability? Our intention should always be to do everything we can to win or succeed, however, if on a given day we don’t have the result, we would prefer not to take it personally. We do our best, learn from our mistakes, and just get better as we grow. I have a personal motto that goes like this: “Make it personal; don’t take it personal.” What I mean by that is that I want to do things to the best of my ability, I want to personally make it my business to give as much as I can, while at the same time remembering that whether I succeed or fail is not a problem. real reflection of who I really am, is just the result of my best efforts at that time.
I can remember several times in my coaching career and parenting careers when my son and I learned lessons during his days as a peewee flag football player. One season, he was drafted to a team that couldn’t win a game. He would complain on our trips home and at one point he told me that he didn’t want to play anymore. I understood his pain, having been there as a coach and a player, but I also knew that it would be valuable to continue and fulfill what he had promised to do. After much discussion and persuasion on my part, he agreed to end the season and just do his best no matter what the score was in any game. His team never won a single game in the regular season, but lo and behold, a minor miracle happened. When it came time for the playoffs, his team was able to succeed in the two biggest games of the year. That’s right; they won the semifinal and championship games. I took the opportunity to point out to my son that if he had quit, he would have missed out on being a champion. We also discuss how you never really know how things might turn out if he follows through on his commitments and his word and just does his best.
Earlier I mentioned a Hollywood movie that produced a very dangerous and unrealistic concept. Hollywood has also produced some amazing and wonderful stories to inspire us as well. I recently watched “Friday Night Lights,” another soccer movie. This is the highly competitive game of Texas High School football. The best part was the locker room scene at halftime of the “big game” when coach Gary Gaines starts talking about “Being Perfect,” the team’s context for the season. He begins by telling the players to forget about what’s on the scoreboard, to forget about winning, and to get back on the field to do their best, to give everything for each other and to do it with love. in their hearts. , and a feeling of joy from playing the game. He tells them how much he loves each of them and shows them what he hopes they have learned… If they play to the best of their ability, and for all the right reasons, the final score is not his reward; the feeling with which they leave will be. We are all searching, we find the answer in our Heart with a capital H. this actual answer. In the game of soccer or the game of life, if we play hard, giving our best and loving what we do, there will only be winners and champions no matter what the score says. Playing the game for all the right reasons is the key.
Finding and understanding the right reasons to compete was and is the biggest challenge I face on a daily basis, no matter the task. I live in this world of duality and by nature; I prefer only half of what constitutes my perception of reality. I just want to win, I just want happiness, etc. The problem is that the more I get attached to what I want, the more I also get attached to its opposites. Reality is a double-edged sword. The answer to this puzzle is not to get attached, but to play the game from the heart and not from the head. You see, it is your head and your ego that sees and experiences duality and it is your head that creates the preferences based on all the information it has gathered over a lifetime of living in this world of opposites. It is your head that will take profits and losses personally; your heart, on the other hand, will go with the flow feeling the joy and love of just playing the game. It’s love that gets you back in the game, over and over again, whether you’re winning or losing. In other words, love isn’t everything… it’s the only thing. Winning is a happy byproduct.
A few years ago, when I was an assistant coach at the high school level; I was listening to our head coach talk to the players at halftime of a varsity basketball game. He told them that to be winners they would have to work hard, play smart, have fun, and do it together. I thought that was very good advice. And as I listened to him talk about these ideas, I realized that before someone would want to commit to all the hard work it takes to win, something else would have to be present as well. The reason why we become true winners and champions in sports and in life is mainly that apart from committing ourselves to hard work, smart play, fun, etc. – we have to truly love what we are doing.
If we love what we’re doing, it’s so much easier to work, recover from losses, and show up to play the game over and over again. It turns out that when you examine the mindset and heart of true champions (whether in sports or in life), what you see and hear from them is how much they love it. Whatever the “it” is for them. All great champions have this as a basis for participating in their chosen endeavors. All great people have learned to play the game from their hearts and simply use their heads as a compass, a tool to navigate their path to success. This is the most valuable lesson that sport and competition have taught me. This is the most valuable lesson we can teach our young athletes. “Winning isn’t everything, it’s loving what you do that means everything.”