Did you win today?

I had a gymnast, let’s call him Nick. (this is way back when I coached boys). Nick was the kind of kid would take on challenges only if he knew he could win.  He was young and had all kinds of talent, I used to say “dude you got talent falling off of you, pick some back up and pay attention.” Nick would probably be classified as having an attention problem by some pop psychologist; to me Nick was just a kid who needed challenges and needed to win.  If something was perceived as too over his head, he would become pouty and sulk. However, if he felt he could do it he was all in. Nick loved to take the easy challenges and then gloat. Like “race you to the bubbler when I’m half the way” was one of his favorite. I guess you could say, Nick was a boy.

So I had Nick on the floor on a day when the two other boys (2 brothers) didn’t come in. Nick had a private lesson. I told Nick that I was introducing Flic Flacs (back handsprings) that day and as I expected Nick sulked off. I brought him back to the floor by telling him how the lesson was “private” and what better time to learn a new skill, something he could show off when the other boys were just learning it next week.  I encouraged him by pitting him against his class-mates. Sounds terrible, but I had my reasons. We had done numerous drills before then and most of the time kids just do drills because they are fun and they don’t make the connection as to what skill it applies to until we make the connection for them. Nick and I did some drills and I spotted about 10,000 flic flacs.  But Nick was a pretty sharp kid. despite my over the top cheering for how well he was doing, he calmly brought it back to reality. “I need to be able to do it myself” he said.  Spotting him gave him a temporary victory, but he was right, he needed to do it alone. My objective though was to get him out of the corner and I did. After a few more and telling him how he was mostly doing it alone he did do a few without spot. Then he ran off to the water fountain and challenged me at the half way point.

To Nick the lesson wasn’t about the winning or the showing off. It was about progress. I said what I had to say to get him out of the corner.  I feel he learned the lesson regardless of the motivation. And  he did beat me ultimately to the bubbler, that’s two wins in a day. Everyone wants to win. But sometimes we don’t. So is it good enough to make progress, or to do your best?

Last weekend I had a road race for Habitat for Humanity. I didn’t win. I am an avid non-measurer; I don’t weigh myself, have my cholesterol checked or measure my height. I also don’t time my runs. So when I saw that I had a pretty good time, even with a bothersome ankle injury it was a little like a victory to me. I had done my best and it felt good.

Both Nick’s Flic Flac and my run required preparation, training, good attitude and persistence, but it also required defining success or victory before the contest began. Athletes often make a competition out of everything. During the run for me it to have a decent time but it was also fun to challenge myself to pass the runner ahead of me. For Nick it was having a skill before the brothers came back. Regardless of the motivation we, as competition minded people, look for victories.  But it’s doing our best that should define our success.

Resilience after defeat is imperative and is the sole reason we go on to compete the next time. Learning from not being in first, or not getting a goal is as essential as the goal or victory itself. So here are a few thoughts on being your best, and winning everyday.

  • Define winning as progress. This means that with true effort you cannot lose.
  • Learn from your performance and strategize how to “win” next time rather than blaming or feeling sad about the result this time.
  • Spend most of your effort in preparing for the competition. Game days are once an awhile and training is everyday. For Nick his effort came in our “private class” to prepare for his day to show off.
  • Surround yourself with “winners”.  Being around people who blame, sulk or complain about the game makes it hard for you to keep a winning attitude.

There is a Confucian quote that says “first shoot your arrow, then call where the arrow lands your target.” Winning is by definition whatever you make it. My target in the gym and in life is to progress. How do you define winning? Did you win today?

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