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Sunday, 25 September 2011

It’s not always the win that counts

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing - so said Vince Lombardi (* - see below on completion of this page) - a phrase that sums up the accepted approach to professional sports across the world.  Certainly with coaches who will demand the best, stress the need to invest/over-invest in the team and its assts.  If you don’t put everything into winning - well.....  you are a bunch of losers.
Well for me - I disagree.  Yes I know - it’s sacrilegious...  for someone who has led sports teams - but for me, there is more to it that just setting yourself to win.  Here’s why....

This weekend saw two teams lose who going into games would have been desperate to win, who would have prepared supremely for the win, and who were favorites for the win (certainly with most).
Scotland Rugby team lost to Argentina in the Rugby World Cup - a game that means they are now favorites to not make the quarter finals (for the first time in their history).  It was a huge game - one that the team has known about for years - and one they will have been preparing for - for a long long time.  Look up “must-win” in the famous (yet never found) sports dictionary - and this game is listed.  And the Scotland coach is certainly one who demands absolute perfection - “If you control your own actions - then the win will be yours” (another maxim well mouthed globally).
Meanwhile - the other side of the Tasman - the Melbourne Storm (the league leading team heading into the playoffs) were turned over by the NZ Warriors.  Craig Bellamy - the coach of the Storm is (well) regarded as one of the best (and best prepared) teams in the world (his sport or any other).
The problem with putting everything on winning is two fold - with each of the above as examples of each - 
  • You have an opponent.  That opponent may have just the same attitude as you to winning.  That opponent may prepare just as well as you, may have just as many assets as you, may even do things a little bit better than you (shock / horror).  Only one team can win. (The Warriors are coached by a star of the future the rumors suggest).
  • You may not have the resources available to you that teams around you have.  Scotland probably have more available resources than Argentina (it’s debatable but that’s why I say probably) - but they have a lot less resources than many of their competitors - and - being realistic - are not going to win the World Cup - an opinion that kinda flies in the face of the opinion that if you control your actions, you win the game.
As a leader of a sports team - If and when you focus everything on making sure the team wins - the rest of the organization “may” suffer.
  • You over stretch resources to provide everything that the team needs.
  • You take resources from other equally worthy causes - meaning that their progress is constrained, damaged, broken.
  • You portray the wrong image to the rest of the organization - who may have jobs that they view as important - but ‘it seems like you don’t’.
  • Seeing above - failure may well be right around the corner.
  • And most importantly - a dedication to ‘winning’ (thanks Charlie Sheen) at all costs - means you cannot focus your club/team/organization on what really matters - 
    • Progress - success for the organization means year on year improvement, it means getting better.  If you don’t win (when you have to) - progress can be severely impacted.
    • Delivering an Impact - this is on your staff, on your community, on your supporters, on culture.  No matter the results (even if you lose every game) - you have the ability in sports to make a positive impact on the world - and as a leader this should be part of your brief.
Of course winning is important, and have no doubt I love to win, and I recognize that a win will be better for your organization (as a whole) than a loss (though there are some studies that indicate a close/exciting loss delivers more benefits than a huge/boring win - but that’s for another day) - so don’t doubt the desire to win.
But - for me at least - there is more to sport than the win, and when you set out to lead your club - remember that.
And PS - it wasn’t Vince Lombardi who penned the quote at the top of the page - it was a Bruins football coach almost 10 years earlier.

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