Wow! I have really been amazed by all the great feedback and support on this new website and blog! Thank you all for your comments and emails. I am really excited that many of you are finding this beneficial.
Below is a blog that I wrote two years ago, in the spring of 2010 for Inside Lacrosse, as we were going through our first season at DU together with the new coaching staff. I recalled writing it after I posted my last blog and thought this would be a great follow-up to the last one "Winning Does Not Matter". Also, today during our DENVER ELITE Sunday Sessions and tryouts, we started and ended our clinics with the cheer, "Be your best!", which was a saying inspired by Peter Worstell, a great former lacrosse player and coach out in California.
As I watched the 2010 NCAA basketball championship game, I started to think about competition and sports in general. I really did not care who won, as I was never a huge Duke fan growing up and the only thing I knew about Butler was that they cut Division I lacrosse from their sports department (boooo!). Towards the end though, I found myself rooting for the underdog Bulldogs. It was almost as though you were watching a men's pickup basketball team hang with one of the most storied collegiate programs in the sport, and I wanted those noon-time hoopers to win!!
Down 61-59, Butler's team leader, Gordon Hayward, took a last second miracle half court shot. As the ball floated towards the backboard, you could imagine the scenarios. It looked like one of those perfect shots in the perfect situation that ESPN would have played at the beginning of SportsCenter for the next five years. The Indianapolis crowd would go insane for their hometown heroes! Hayward would be tackled by his teammates and get to wear a Butler National Championship hat. But, for some reason it was not in the cards. The shot bounced off the backboard and off the front of the rim and the Duke Blue Devils were the ones to experience winning a National Championship.
The thing that really stuck out to me was an observation that the color commentator made as Duke was celebrating. He said that, "Duke may have deservingly won the game and the National Championship, but that Butler had certainly not lost the game, nor could they be considered losers." I thought it was a great point and one that we could all examine further in our own sport and in our own lives.
In my life, I believe that my main job as a "coach" is to help guide young men to become better people (in the process, I also learn from them and become a better person myself). To a certain extent, I feel that I am doing that now and I will get better with time and maturity in accomplishing that goal. If told that wins or losses are more important than that pursuit, then I would gladly walk away from this occupation.
At Denver and at many other athletic programs across the world, our goal as coaches is to help our players strive to be their absolute BEST. And I'm not talking "soccer-mom-with-the-orange-slices-oh-you-boys-did-your-best!". No. I'm talking about players who trained and busted their butts for years to perform at their absolute BEST when the challenge and time came for them to prove it. So, at Denver, through practice, lifting, running, yoga, mental preparation, scouting reports and other training, by game day our athletes are ready to be their BEST. At the end of the day, I simply want them to be able to look in the mirror and know that they did their BEST. And after all we have done as coaches to prepare them for that, it is in their hands.
Now, this is where competition becomes tricky. If a program is the most talented team, and if they are the most prepared, and if they perform to their absolute highest level, they should win right? For the most part, yes. But there are other factors that are beyond our control. There are referees, weather, home-field advantages and various other factors that play in to a game situation. Furthermore, there is another team that may perform their BEST. Finally, there are crazy bounces in all sports and the game of lacrosse is no exception to that rule.
So, we may be very successful when our only goal is to simply do the BEST that we possibly can. Or we may lose. The only way that I could be disappointed in our guys at Denver was if they did not go out and play their absolute hardest and to their fullest potential. Then, they would be cheating themselves, the other team, the fans, their coaching staff and the sport if they didn’t. And frankly, they would deserve to lose.
Now, I know that I am an idealist and that in theory, this is all well and good; but in the "real world" of athletics, people want to win. Coaches are paid to win. Athletes are given scholarships to win. Schools make money and prestige off of winning. Fans come and cheer for winning teams. Why are all these things true? Winning makes us feel good. It makes us feel “better” than our opponent. This is why there are people all over the country who will be “fans” of a team which is filled with people whom they do not even know. They go to the water cooler at work on Monday and say, "Yep...my Giants won this weekend! It's gonna be a good week." Or they say, "Man, my Giants blew it this weekend! I should become a Jets fan. I hate my life."
I know from my own experience as an athlete that the feeling of winning is very ego inflating. The more that I won as an athlete, the bigger my ego became. But, the fact is that winning has nothing to do with who you are as a person. Winning is simply a barometer for how hard you have pushed yourself to become great at a certain skill set. If you take it to be anything more than that, you will soon lose! And the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Losing is just the opposite. If our identity is wrapped up in a certain sport or team or game, then losing represents some sort of lack. But, in the end if we are not as good of a player as someone else, or if our team loses, it does not mean that we are any less of a person. Our potential as humans is far greater than that. There is no more hurtful label than being called a “loser”. It triggers a great deal of shame within us to be called that or to believe that we are one. But, the fact is that just because you lose a game, does not mean that you are a “loser”. I don’t really believe that anyone is a loser, and I certainly do not feel that anyone that does their absolute BEST in life could resemble anything close to a loser (I certainly hope the Butler players understand that now for themselves). The other reason that people do not like losing, is because then they do not get to feel the ecstasy of winning! However, how much would we learn, how much would we push ourselves, how much would we grow, if we always won? Winning would not even be fun if we always won. To lose gracefully, means to learn why you lost and grow from that.
So, before you heckle me, try something out...
If you are a fan, go watch a game that “your” team is playing in and try not to choose sides. Clap and cheer for both teams. Appreciate the plays that all the athletes make. Have fun and enjoy the experience.
If you are a coach, do your BEST to get your team ready for their game, and then let go. Give them the opportunity to play their BEST and appreciate your opponent for being there and providing your team with a challenge. Your opponent is simply a measurement tool that can tell your team that they did not play their BEST or that they are not as skilled or that they were not as prepared or that they are not as talented. So, you go back the next week to practice and try to improve so you can be those things the next time around. I always hear coaches and athletes say, "Oh I hate these guys! I want to kill these guys!" Why would you hate or want to destroy someone or something that is pushing you to find your highest potential?
If you are a player, work your absolute hardest to improve as a player all week and all season. Listen to your coach so you are prepared mentally for the other team. Take care of your body and train hard so you are physically prepared for the other team. When game time comes, leave everything out on the field and play as hard as you possibly can. Whether you win or lose means nothing because you have done your BEST. What more can you possibly ask of yourself than that?
The funny thing about sports is that you can guarantee one thing will happen for the most part. The television announcers will always be smiling after the game. But, have we ever wondered why this is the case? They are trained not to pick sides! And they enjoy the game! And that’s why we don’t put our TV on mute when watching a game. Can you imagine if a coach of a team that was playing was doing the color commentating? It would sound something like this : “What the hell is he doing out there? That was such a terrible shot! Get off the field! Why didn’t he make that save...that slide...that check?!”. There is no way we would want to listen to that! Yet, we do it in our own head when we pick a team that we want to win. Even worse, when we are playing a sport, we say that to ourselves or when we are coaches, we say it to our players.
This is hard for us to handle in athletics because we are taught that only “losers” say, “Just try your best!”. Furthermore, many people in every walks of life use it as an excuse. They say, “Well, I tried my best,” when they really did not even come close to doing so. The only person that will ever know if you did your absolute BEST is you. I am going to do my BEST today, are you? Once we understand this, we will see that the wins and losses were just a way to get us to wake up and understand this concept for the rest of life.
The Butler men's basketball team did their absolute BEST the other night and this season and they should be applauded and congratulated for it. Furthermore, Duke was pushed to the brink and they did their BEST as well, and in doing so proved that they were the "best" team out there. Both teams should be very proud of what they accomplished.
Who is going to be the "best" team in lacrosse? I don't know. It will probably change next year anyway, and the year after that, and so on. To get too wrapped up in that final outcome, is to miss the point entirely. I just hope to see our Denver team become the BEST that they can possibly be this year. Like I said last week, where that will take us, I have no idea...we are 6-4 right now, coming off of a 17-13 win versus a solid Hobart team and we have two big conference games this weekend versus Bellarmine and Quinnipiac. The only thing we can continue to do here is be our BEST and let the chips fall where they may.