Four Reasons Why Winning Isn't Everything

In today's sports culture, it can be easy to fall into the "winning at all costs" mindset. Since winning championships has become more and more glorified, we're now constantly judged by our outcomes. If we're winning, we're great. If we're losing, we're nobodies. The incentives to succeed are so high that athletes and coaches will go to almost any lengths to win, even if they have to cheat. If we think the top athletes and teams are bending the rules and putting winning above everything else, we think we have to do the same in order to keep up. While all of this ambition has perhaps led to higher standards of excellence, the "winning at all costs" mindset does indeed have costs. Here are four reasons why winning isn't everything:

1. Improvement is more important than winning. As athletes, we don't just play to win. We also play to challenge ourselves, improve, learn about our limits, and reach our potential. This is obvious when you think about this thought experiment: would you be satisfied winning a championship if all your opponents were toddlers? Most likely, you would say no. This is because competing against toddlers would be too easy. You'd easily win without hardly even trying. Winning would bring you no joy because you wouldn't have had to work for it, and you also wouldn't improve at all from competing against toddlers. You could win hundreds of championships against toddlers, but none of these games would help you improve and reach closer to your potential. As a result, you'd most likely be unfulfilled and get bored of winning against toddlers. You'd seek out tougher competition in order to challenge yourself and improve.

This thought experiment should prove to you that winning isn't everything. Yes, winning is nice, but improving is arguably more important. Not only is improving its own reward, but it is also necessary to win at higher levels. Focusing just on winning while ignoring improvement has a few negative effects. First of all, it can take away part of the joy of sports. If all you care about is winning, you may not appreciate the improvement that comes from challenging yourself against tougher competition. After a hard-fought loss, it's harder to feel proud of your effort and improvement if all you care about is winning. Secondly, focusing only on winning can increase your fear of failure. If all you care about is winning, you are more likely to avoid taking risks and challenges because of the fear of losing. And if you never challenge yourself against tougher competition, you won't ever reach your full potential. Also, if you're too worried about the possibility of losing, you're more likely to perform poorly under pressure. Focusing too much on winning hurts your development in another way as well. If all you care about is winning, you're more likely to adopt low-risk techniques and strategies that help you win at a certain level, but don't help you win at a higher level. This causes you to trade long-term development for short-term success. This short-term success may feel good in the present moment, but eventually, taking the shortcut to success will leave you unprepared for future challenges.

In conclusion, putting winning above improvement can cause you to lose joy, perform worse, and stunt your growth. If you truly want to succeed, then you should focus more on improvement, since success is a byproduct of improvement. In other words, if you focus on the process, winning will take care of itself.

2. Having fun is arguably just as important as winning. Winning isn't the only fun part of playing sports. Like I said above, improving is also enjoyable. But another enjoyable part of sports is playing them for their own sake. The simple acts of running, catching, throwing, hitting, and other actions are enjoyable in themselves. Perhaps the best feeling in sports is getting into the "zone." It is the pure joy of playing that brings many people to sports in the first place, and for many athletes, it is one of the main motivations that keeps them in sports. But when athletes put winning above everything else, they often start to lose their love for their sport. This is because the stress of trying to win makes it difficult to enjoy the moment and have fun playing your sport. Here is another thought experiment to show why winning isn't everything. Imagine you win pretty much every game and championship, but you hate every minute of training and playing your sport. Yes, the thrill of winning may make you happy momentarily, but it fades away quickly. This means that for most of time, you're miserable as an athlete, since most of your time is spent training and playing. So ask yourself, is winning many championships even worth it if you're unhappy 95% of the time? Is that really how you want to spend most of your time here on earth?

3. Integrity, character, and sportsmanship are more important than winning. The obsessive drive to win often causes people to make compromises to their character. In order to gain an edge on their competition, many athletes and coaches are tempted to cheat. For example, some athletes take performance enhancing drugs, and some teams commit recruiting violations. Even if most athletes and coaches don't blatantly cheat, many of them bend the rules by playing dirty with no sportsmanship. How often do you see athletes go for cheap shots, flop, manipulate refs, and try to get away with fouls and illegal plays? Athletes and coaches do these things because they think it's worth it if it helps them win. But if you think about it, is it really worth it? Is winning really worth compromising your integrity? Is winning a game truly satisfying if you had to cheat in order to win? When your career is over, do you really want to be known as a dirty player or a cheater who played the game the wrong way? Perhaps you don't really care about your character and sportsmanship. Maybe winning is really all you care about? If so, then think about this. What if everyone cheated and no one cared about sportsmanship? If this were to happen, sports would probably no longer exist. They wouldn't be fun for anyone because the best teams would no longer win. The winner would just be whoever cheated the most. Eventually organized sports would fall apart. Sports cannot exist without rules, ethics, and sportsmanship. By not practicing sportsmanship, you are not only ruining sports for everyone else, but also for future generations. So if you put winning above sportsmanship and integrity, you need to humble yourself, become a mature adult, and care about something greater than yourself.

4. Relationships are more important than winning. Putting winning above all else hurts your relationships with others. This is because the will to win can inflate your ego. Instead of making friends through sports, you make enemies. You sabotage your teammates in order to get more playing time. You disrespect your opponents both on and off the field. You alienate yourself from your closest friends and family members in order to focus more on training. The obsessive drive to win causes you to trade meaningful relationships for athletic success. But let me ask you this. What is success if you have no one to share it with? Does a huge trophy-shelf make you any less lonely in an empty house? Can fame and recognition replace true love and friendship?

When you take the time to look at the bigger picture of life, it's easy to see that winning isn't everything. Yes, winning feels good, but there's more important things in life, such as improvement, true joy, integrity, and relationships. However, this doesn't mean you have to stop caring about winning in order to live a healthy and balanced life. You can still have a strong desire to succeed in sports, but you need to make sure it is properly ordered. As long as you truly prioritize growth, integrity, and relationships, and mental health above winning, you can be both happy and successful. Many athletes say they have their priorities in line, but if they're honest, they may have to admit they care a little too much about winning. If this is the case for you, don't feel bad. Like I said in the very first paragraph, it's easy to fall into this trap in today's sports culture. It takes great awareness and courage to step outside of it and commit to living a more balanced life. This is why it's important to spread the message and help each other out. If we do this, we can gradually change our culture for the better!