The Difference Between Winning And Losing

As a kid I really liked Michael Owen. He had confidence, pace, and was an excellent player who seemed to love the game. He burst on the scene at 17 when he signed for Liverpool and was a bright hope for the international game, seemingly able to rip any defence apart. His finest moment? Hands down, it has to be the video below where he destroys 13-year-old Jamie, a youth player being coached by ex-Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall.

“Well done, he’s 13,” says Southall after Owen has spent the day congratulating himself on the epic achievement of destroying a kid. Now there are some who would defend this “He’s a winner”, “He’s competitive”, “That’s why he is where he is” they will say. Fair enough, he’s had a great career and won a Ballon D’or, he has definitely achieved a lot in his career (except the Premier League, which Southall did twice (old Division One as it was) while playing for Everton). He’s achieved more than I have, but then again I’ve never had my self-esteem increased through scoring a goal against a 13-year-old, and this is the premise of this article.

Winning isn’t always winning. When young Jamie makes a couple of nice saves against Owen, that is winning. Stopping shots from a player who has played at the very highest levels of the game is an achievement. However, when that player scores against a kid there is not quite the same value, and winning is, well, not really winning. For winning to have value there needs to be competition. Without competition there is no point in practice, preparation, or improving performance. Competition is good for everyone, winners and losers. Winners get to feel a sense of accomplishment and competence, and losers learn lessons to grow from. If you want to improve the standards of 10 people you split them up and have them compete in a 5-a-side and make them compete, grow, learn and adapt.

Here are today’s three takeaways:

1 – For winning to have value it has to be against a competitor of equal or higher skill or ability, and it has to be fair.

2 – Don’t measure yourself by others. Measure yourself by your best – then do better. If you can do 1 push-up today, that’s fine. By the end of the week do three, and five by the end of next week.

3 – In 1998 Stevenage Borough (as they were then) drew 1-1 with Newcastle Utd. I was there. The replay ended 2-1 to Newcastle with a goal that never was in their favour and a big * next to the win. They may have made it to the next round, but I guarantee Stevenage FC fans look back on this in a better light than Newcastle fans, and I guarantee we feel we won more than they did.

I still get chills watching this:

In the Sport Psychology class I taught last semester one of my students wrote something very interesting and gave great insight. “Winning isn’t everything, but neither is losing.” There is a great deal that can be taken from this, but the main point is that our focus should be on what we are capable of, and we can often learn more and grow more from a loss than a win. If we continue to improve, work hard, and make our best better, we will eventually be unbeatable and there will be a lot of winning along the way.

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