Let’s set the mood people…shall we?
I decided to blog about this topic because it is something that as a coach is particularly near and dear to my heart, winning. As a coach, I love to win as any coach does but if winning is not an option than showing real progress towards winning is a close second. Interestingly enough, I was talking to my daughter’s coach yesterday, and she said something that made my heart flutter. She said “this is regions we need to win,” I was like the woman on Jerry Maguire saying “stop, stop you had me at hello, you had me…at hel-lo.”
Getting the “W” is the foundation of all sports; therefore, winning itself is fundamental. Winning in many ways defines the quality of a team and the quality of a coach although it is not the entire picture. Every gymnast joins the competition team to win, and for the most part, every parent does too. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying winning is everything but it sure in the hell beats what’s second(get it, WHAT’S SECCONNDDD).
Why is winning important
~“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”―
Winning is important because besides making the other parents green with envy as your baby collects medals(shade), winning embodies the end result of hard work, dedication, and effort. Winning also serves as a great confidence builder. I have a saying as a coach “winning builds confidence, but you have to be confident to win.” Winning is also important because it helps to keep athletes motivated to stay in the sport. Ask yourself this, how many athletes quit gymnastics when they were winning, my guess is not many. Very few people want to stop at the top because winning is addictive. It is easy to quit when the chips are down or after taking a butt whooping at the hands of your competition. The more you win, the more you learn what it takes to win consistently which brings me to my next point that winning is a skill.
Winning is a skill
The longer I coach, the more I realize winning is a skill. My definition of winning has evolved over the years from “getter done” to “executing a series of little things correctly to produce the desired outcome.” I have also realized being successful is not necessarily a complicated process but rather a tedious one. For an athlete to be successful, they must develop the following skills: discipline, ability to listen, ability to process information, ability to execute instructions and attention to detail. Notice I didn’t mention talent or ability because most success in youth sports has more to do with an athlete’s ability to focus and follow instructions than it is about natural skill or talent.
Practice is EVERYTHING
Growing up I had two things drilled into my head when it came to sports. The first was this quote “nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream” and the second quote was “to beat the competition you have to do what they are not willing to do.” On weekends when I wanted to sleep in, my parents would come into my room, wake me up and tell me to do my chores and then go practice. When I would throw the covers back over my head and say “today is a chill day” I would hear “okay, but nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream” along with “boy that grass best be cut before I get home.” Growing up I was always taught there was no substitute for hard work. If you wanted to be successful, you had to be willing “to go through it.” When I was young, I had no idea what “it” was but as a coach, I understand “it” is the “grind.” The grind is the work that takes place away from the lights and the cheering fans.
Gymnastics like track and field at its core is a very methodical sport. In methodical sports, repetition is king. When watching my daughter’s practice, it becomes mundane watching her do what seems like endless full-turns and back walkover to back handsprings on the beam. Although sometimes it gets boring as hell watching the same drills repeatedly I know it is essential for developing “muscle memory” which is a fancy phrase for a habit. The problem with methodical sports is that like all habits, an athlete can develop both good and bad habits. A gymnast should treat practice like a competition because as the old cliche goes “the way you practice is the way you compete.” Although I have never competed in gymnastics, my guess is the same rules apply as with most sports. As soon as the judge raises their hand, a gymnast’s mind shuts off, and the body reacts with what it has been trained to do through repetition. What that means is if the athlete has been practicing with bent legs then guess what, you are about to see bent legs in the competition.
Never apologize for winning.
The first step to winning outside of developing the skills mentioned above is to never apologize for wanting to win. For whatever reason, in youth sports, we have managed to do two things. First, we have somehow made wanting to win and winning a bad thing especially if it infringes on another gymnast’s lack of winning or lack of desire to win. For example, have you experienced the situation of being at the after competition dinner and not wanting to talk about how well your gymnast did because you don’t want to make the other gymnast feel bad? If you don’t believe me that we have made winning or wanting to win a bad thing. You should try this experiment. At your gymnast’s next competition look over at another parent and say “you know what, I hope my child gets first place today. She has worked hard and deserves first place.” Prepare yourself for the side eye. For the second experiment, at the post-competition meal if your daughter did well and everyone else didn’t say this “soooo let’s talk about the competition” see if you don’t get the side eye.
Not being able to celebrate a win for fear of hurting someone’s feelings is bullcrap, do you know how much I paid for this win? You know how many lies I had to tell my manager to get out of work early so that you could make practice on time. You know how many times I had to practice the sick cough for when I call off on a Friday because your session was scheduled for 5pm Friday and to beat Atlanta traffic I have to leave three hours early, but I am out of vacation days. “Imma enjoy this win and talk about it now pass the cheese bread please.” The below video is actual footage of me calling off.
The second issue is that society has made it that in youth sports everyone has to win. Not sure when it became popular that the 50th athlete deserved a medal. Listen, parents, if your gymnast is anything below 5th place, then you and I know they don’t deserve a medal. I am definitely not saying your gymnast isn’t a good gymnast, but the truth is five other gymnasts bested her that day. Heck, I am not even sure what metal on the periodic table a medal for anything below fifth place should be made of. The truth is if we treat gymnast who perform very well that same as those who don’t then we never incentivize low achievers to work harder.
There is no substitute for winning
The most dangerous that has happened in youth sports is that we have managed to redefine the definition of winning. Winning is now defined by things that are utterly unrelated to the end result of competition. Victory is concrete, black and white and for my fellow computer geeks out there, winning is binary. Either you won, or you didn’t. Society has decided that to spare young children the pain of experiencing failure let’s just redefine what winning is. We have now defined winning within the confines of a social media post, which team has the best uniforms, or which athlete owns the most practice leotards or something else unrelated to achieving the best performance or the highest score. Gymnasts are becoming Instagram and YouTube sensations because we have trained ourselves to look at small snapshots in time instead of entire pictures.
Also, because of our now distorted view of winning athletes and parents are far more worried about getting the perfect shot, grabbing the ideal video and picking the perfect practice leotard when we should be focusing on what we need to do to win. Again, winning is essential, and if an athlete isn’t winning, they should be progressing towards winning. It might sound harsh, but the truth is everybody wants to win. The video below describes what winning used to be like
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Until next time, peace and soul….