To Win or Not to Win: THAT is NOT the Question

Winning has commandeered the high calling of sports and coaching.

I walked into a Nike store with my kids and noticed the youth T-shirt table. I was shocked by what I saw: “Crushing You Will Be A Pleasure.” “Thank You for Being Such a Gracious Loser.” “I Promise to Help You Up After I Knock You Down.” And “Good Game: Maybe Next Time You Will Actually Score.” Do you find a consistent message amongst these T-shirts from one of the biggest sports retailers in the world? The slogans on the shirts give a sense of our nation’s obsession with winning, even for children in size youth-small T-shirts.

To win is an honorable and desirable goal. But winning at any price and at the expense of the student athlete is unacceptable. Striving to win, with the well-being of the individual athlete as the priority, defines the role of a coach.

Today, we have allowed the idol of winning to overtake the calling of coaching. I have had the privilege of being a student athlete, a coach on the high school and collegiate levels, a basketball official, a professor who teaches an Ethics in Sports course, and a father to four kids who all are talented, hard-working athletes. Based upon personal experience and exposure to the coaching profession, I have witnessed some unfortunate philosophies and approaches. The calling of being a coach, for some, has devolved into a self-centered, and winning-at-all-costs profession. The question must be asked: Is athletics about the coach and winning or is it about the privilege of investing in and building up young men and women, making a positive difference in their lives?

Being a coach provides a privileged opportunity to be the most important and influential person in the athlete’s life, other than his or her parents. Coaches have the ability to be a role model, building self-esteem and character in their players and teaching them to believe that the process is more important than the win-loss record. Winning has become so overwhelmingly enveloping that it has stolen the primary roles of the coach: to invest in the individual players, to love those young men or women based on who they are rather than how many points they score, and to positively influence them for life. Winning cannot and should not be more important than the desire to educate, protect, and influence each life. Coaches also should teach and display a respect for the rules, officials and opponents.

Billy Graham has stated that “a coach will impact more lives in a year than most will affect in a lifetime.” The true and lofty calling of a coach cannot be over-estimated.  A varsity basketball coach whom I highly respect always says that “a good coach will make you a better player, but a great coach will make you a better person.”

In today’s society, the coach must re-take the fundamental goal of coaching out of the win/loss column and put it back where it belongs: to be the architect and definer of an athlete’s sports experience.

James Thrasher

James Thrasher

Dr. Jim Thrasher is the Senior Fellow of Career Services and the coordinator of the Center for Vision & Values working group on calling.

All posts by | High resolution photos»