The recent success of many of the most consistent college and professional teams has been attributed, by their coaches, to their focus on the process rather than the result. From Bill Belicheck’s New England Patriots, to the Pete Carroll USC Trojans to Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide to Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs to Mike Kryzyewski’s Duke Blue Devils you hear over and over again the importance of daily effort and the execution of each individual play as opposed to an obsession with winning. This is not news to successful coaches (or regular readers of this blog), as evidenced by John Wooden’s 11 NCAA Championships without an emphasis on the scoreboard, but rather his Pyramid of Success that is mentioned here extensively.
These coaches are as competitive as anybody and I’m sure they love to win (considering the alternative) but they are far more worried about individual and team Mastery than they are the Scoreboard. Pete Carroll and his “Win Forever” philosophy is even misunderstood, probably because of the perceived implication of philosophy and the book by that title. “Win Forever” is simply defined by Carroll as doing things better than they have ever been done before. Everything. On and off the court. Every day. THAT is “winning”…without any mention of the final score. Saban routinely dismisses talk of goals related to “winning” and, instead, hammers home the message of “the process”.
Positive Coaching Alliance Redefines Winning for coaches by presenting tools to focus on Mastery rather than the scoreboard. If we look at winning through our Mastery lens, we evaluate personal Effort, Learning, and Mistake Management. If one does those things well, teams will probably win the games they should – and maybe some they shouldn’t too. This concept is rooted deeply in the Alabama philosophy as well.
When one’s eyes are on the scoreboard the only thing important is the final result. What was the score or how did you perform? Since errors and mishaps lead to hurting you on the scoreboard, Mistakes are not OK. A major pitfall in this line of thinking is the Comparison With Others – a stark contrast from Saban mentioning the two-decade Army recruiting slogan of “being all you can be”.
This comparison with others happens in all walks of life, spawning the phrase “Keep Up With The Joneses”, and is prominent in many iterations within the world of sports. Players worry about why other players made varsity and they didn’t, why someone else is playing a position and they’re not, hitting higher in the batting order, or why another player is playing more minutes, scoring more, or getting better opportunities. In Youth Sports all those same comparisons are made by parents who are worried about their son or daughter and want to fight those battles for them.
The reality is the comparison shouldn’t matter. The reality is that the only important thing is that the individual player is giving their best effort, listening and trying to learn so they can improve, and managing their mistakes so they learn from them – and play without the fear of making more mistakes. What the other player is doing shouldn’t really matter at all.
Coaches fall into this trap also, most obviously by scoreboard watching and worrying about standings. On an even more “micro” level, just worrying about the score is often a futile exercise. The only thing that really matters is the next play, next pitch, or next possession and how that is executed. Coaches also worry far too much about “the other guy” as it pertains to comparing programs. High school and college sports are one big game of “Keep up with the Joneses” as everyone tries to match each others facilities and amenities. Administrators often compare records and championships as a means of deciding whether to retain or fire coaches. This causes angst among coaches – resulting in them comparing even further.
The disease of comparing with others has spread to leagues and conferences. In the NCAA it has become a three ring circus of schools being wooed from one conference to another based on TV contracts and a variety of other comparisons. In high school it is often the “Public vs Private" debate. As with most things, you can follow the money to see why these are problems - and money is just another form of the scoreboard, isn't it?
The “green” of money is right up there with “green with envy” – which is really at the root of the comparison syndrome. When it is broken down to the lowest common denominator, it is really just someone being jealous of someone else for what they have. And we all know that Envy is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”. When someone is discontent with their own lot, or position on the team, and spends time dimming someone else’s light so theirs shines brighter, it is never good for team culture.
Instead, the focus should be on something the individual can control. They should focus on their own efforts and attitude to try to improve and earn what it is they are looking for. Then “high tides raise all boats”. If everyone works hard to try to improve and take the next guys spot, while that player is working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen – teams are going to get pretty good.
A major problem is energy is being spent on these comparisons rather than accepting responsibility for why the situation is what it is in the first place. It causes a deflection of blame and avoids responsibility, and that stunts a player’s improvement. A player would be much better served to re-frame the situation and look at it as a challenge to overcome rather than a problem to complain about. Then that energy can be spent on something a player can control, which is far more productive.
If we go back to the best definition of success I've come across. one that took John Wooden 14 years to perfect with over 70 years of application, he said:
"Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."
If we want to really break that down, anyone who is spending one ounce of energy on comparisons really doesn’t have any “peace of mind”. This Peace of Mind is a “direct result” of the “self-satisfaction” (and clearly someone comparing is not satisfied) in knowing you made the effort...
So the answer, really, to all these comparisons is to just give MORE effort. Enough effort that you WILL be satisfied. Satisfied that YOU did your best to become the best that YOU are capable of becoming. Simple answer to a big problem. And 100% entirely within your control. THAT is the antidote to the “Contamination of Comparisons”.
So every player on the team should strive to be a little better than yesterday, and the team will be a lot better. Live by the motto “I’m not what I could be or should be, but I am better than I was yesterday.”
Or as Tim McGraw sings :
“I can finally stand the man in the mirror I see
I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get
But I’m better than I used to be”
Be the best YOU that you can be. Don't they say, "if you cant be a tree, be a bush, but be the best little bush you can be"
The only useful comparison to make is to compare yourself to yesterday’s version of you.