A friend I coach a team with coined this phrase to describe the way one of our 2025 lacrosse players maintains a high winning percentage. He loses every clamp on the face-off only to win it later by picking up the loose ball as his opponent pops it out. He has an unbelievable winning percentage after he first loses the draw.
I believe there is a lot to be learned from the concept. Here are my thoughts on it.
Sometimes we have to learn the lessons losing can teach us in order to create a battle tested approach to winning, one that can be deployed time and again in all aspects of our life.
We learn a lot from our losses. Having the ability to stay with something with an eye on winning later is a part of competing. This can be taught, but few have the patience to take advantage of it.
Earlier in the Spring I asked the families on this same team if they would be okay with me moving the team up a grade so our players could be challenged by faster and stronger players. I informed them that this decision would cause us to give up our winning record and a sure bet on winning the League championship at our grade level. They trusted my decision and we made the move.
Here’s what I hoped the players would win if they first chose to lose. I wanted to help them learn a winning approach to competing that they could use to find continued success.
I have been developing an Approach to competing and overcoming challenges my whole life. I have been teaching that approach in my coaching for several years. In many ways, this approach saved my life. I wanted to use one of my teams to show how it can be taught.
It involves developing five key elements:
- Developing a love for the game and knowing WHY you play.
I wanted to make sure they developed a love for the game and the way they played it.
I knew if they loved playing and knew why they played, they would be determined to want to do it often, and would seek ways to improve so they could pull more joy from it. We asked these kids to find their best and tied that accomplishment to a feeling. I call it, “Joy with purpose”.
Knowing why you play sets up your reward system, so putting in the time and hard work is something you get to do, instead of got to do. Joy is best felt by earning it, so the harder we pushed them to overcome challenges, the greater they felt by accomplishing them. Eventually, you learn to play with a competitive intensity and you start to expect it from yourself and your teammates every time you play.
- Committing to your goals.
I wanted them to learn the importance of laying out goals for themselves and the team and committing to accomplishing those goals. By teaching them to expect something from themselves and their teammates I knew they could learn to push their game and find the determination to advance their competitive nature. Having expectations creates the desire to set goals for yourself and paves the way to creating a plan for achieving them.
Goals create priorities around those expectations and this opens the door to discovering what you are willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish them.
To achieve our goals we broke down the process of development into smaller milestones; as the milestones were achieved a sense of accomplishment is developed. We set up small milestones that were achievable so they would drive themselves toward the achieving the next one. For instance, we asked them to learn to play against better teams and keep the score close in the fourth quarter. They needed to learn to push hard through the game so they could learn how to tilt the outcomes later. We were constantly teaching them not to leave the fight and helping them be aware of what they gained by not doing so.
In building a winning approach, if you view milestones vertically you can see how they become your building blocks of success!
- Giving everything you have to your teammates.
I wanted to teach that winning is about developing a desire to give everything you have to your teammates so you can enjoy the rewards together.
Fighting for other people raises our ability and willingness to compete. Having a commitment to the team’s success through individual contribution is vital for athletes. Playing at the top of one’s game and not letting one’s self or one’s teammates down is a key component of success for team sport athletes.
I like Brittany Ezell’s take, “Being on a team is a privilege, when other people depend on you, you are more willing to give up being selfish, apathetic and average.”
Tying the success of the team to the goals you set for yourself gives your game a purpose. You can celebrate knowing you and your teammates gave the best of yourselves and you can share the experiences and the feelings you created for a lifetime.
- Being accountable for how you play and aware of what you feel.
In order to teach accountability you have to be willing to allow players to feel disappointment and take responsibility. At times, this is very difficult for parents to handle. We all want our kids to be accountable for their actions and the way they play; however, we are often too quick to jump in and save them anytime we see them struggle.
As parents, we will quickly blame coaches, teammates or referees in order to defend our kids’ self-esteem and allow it to remain intact without challenge. This behavior conflicts with developing a winning approach. We can be more helpful by allowing our child the opportunity to learn from failure, challenges or losses and work through the problem themselves. I can tell you as a coach the rewards for handing a child this approach is often not felt for years – but the long-term positive impact it has on their life is greatest reward you can feel.
We allowed every player to feel disappointment at some point during the year and one by one taught them to develop their skills and ability to compete so they could overcome that disappointment on their own.
I was hoping to teach them to be aware of what situations drove those feelings and to focus on what they could do to change their circumstance. I believe it’s important to teach players that we are not victims of our situations and we have or can develop all the tools we need to find success and overcome challenges.
It is just a matter of focusing on what we can control, making a decision on what we want, and putting in the effort to achieve it.
- Believing in yourself and your ability to persevere.
No matter how the difficult the situation is you have to believe you can win. Having belief fuels action and helps create a killer instinct every time you play. It keeps us focused on finding ways to exploit opportunities and to go for it!
We put players in difficult situations, asked them to assess, adapt, and act to guide them out of it. This helped them develop a ton of confidence and belief in their ability and they used it to compete harder.
In our current culture of no patience for losing, putting off winning to learn an approach to winning is rare. Sticking together and supporting the relationships the players have with each other was key. We needed each family to refrain from talking poorly about their kids’ teammates, coaches and the referees.
We hoped to eliminate making excuses in exchange for taking on personal responsibility.
Here was the result for this team:
At the end of the season we entered tournaments with some of the best teams in the country. We signed up for 3 tournaments returning to our age group and we went 15-0 and won 3 Championships. I share this not to bore you with yet another example of bragging about wins, (in reality, it’s just 5th grade lacrosse) and that is not helpful, but rather to show that when players and their families allow time to develop an approach to winning, rather than a mere expectation of it, they get a gift that will transcend sport and help them throughout their lives.
As coaches, I know we can agree that having a team with 18 kids constantly fighting to find their best will undoubtedly lead to greater success in both the short and long-term. So spend time training your players in these 5 key elements.
As parents, we should learn to be more patient and champion all aspects of the experience that our kids depend on in order to develop an approach that is right for them. Let them struggle at times and just be there for them as a helpful guide so they can work their way through it and develop abilities that will last a lifetime. Pay attention to when your player is developing in one of the 5 elements above and give them the positive support they need to succeed.
This approach can work for all of us, and can be used in all parts of our lives. Whether you are competing athletically or at work or whether you are working to overcome a challenge, it can be learned and it’s worth the investment of time. Much like taking the time to develop a reliable swing in golf, finding the right approach is a tool that delivers continued success.
If you would like to learn more about Approach, please feel free to contact me. You can also read more about it here: http://www.resilientworker.net/phil-mccarthy-an-athletic-approach-to-life