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A ‘Winning’ Philosophy

This is an excerpt from Successful Coaching-4th Edition by Rainer Martens.

I want you to consider the following objective as the cornerstone for your coaching philosophy. Many national sport organizations, experienced and successful coaches at all levels, professional educators, and physicians endorse this objective. I hope you will endorse it as well and, more important, put it into practice! The philosophy is expressed in the motto of the American Sport Education Program, which I founded in 1981:

Athletes First, Winning Second

What these four words mean is this: Every decision you make and every behavior you display should be based first on what you judge is best for your athletes, and second on what may improve the athlete’s or team’s chances of winning.

Athletes First, Winning Second is the philosophical foundation for the Bill of Rights for Young Athletes (figure 2.3). Take a moment to review these rights. Even though they were written for younger children, these rights apply to athletes of all ages. Consider how your coaching might deny an athlete these rights. Then consider how you can coach to help ensure that each athlete enjoys these rights.

Figure 2.3 Building a winning coaching philosophy. Reprinted by permission from NASPE 1979.
Figure 2.3 Building a winning coaching philosophy.
Reprinted by permission from NASPE 1979.

Athletes First, Winning Second is simple to state, but not simple to implement. Today some sport organizations are led by administrators who demand that coaches reverse this objective—Winning First, Athletes Second—either because winning is their personal objective or because they are pressured by others. Coaches who skillfully help young people become better human beings but fail to win are considered losers, and all too often are fired. This is the regrettable reality in sport today, but through sport education programs, more enlightened sport administrators, and coaches with an Athletes First, Winning Second philosophy, this will change. In the final analysis, what’s important is not how many games you win, but how many young people you help to become winners in life.

Striving to Win

Having Athletes First, Winning Second as your objective does not mean that winning is unimportant. The immediate short-term objective of any contest is to win. Striving to win within the rules of the game should be the objective of every athlete and coach. To play sports without striving to win would be dishonest and diminish the joy of playing sports.

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” said Vince Lombardi, or so we are told. Actually, Lombardi did not say it quite that way; that was a reporter’s mutation. What Lombardi really said was this: “Winning isn’t everything, but striving to win is.” Lombardi went on to clarify: “The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.”

Does it make sense that the emphasis on winning should not be on the winning itself but on the striving to win? It’s the pursuit of the victory, the dream of achieving the goal, more than the goal itself that yields the joy of sports. Many outstanding athletes candidly say that their best memories of sport are not the victories themselves but the months of preparation and anticipation and the self-revelation they received before and during the competition.

More Excerpts From Successful Coaching 4th Edition