Win or don't come home. This is what I tell the athletes I coach. "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Saunders, and later, Lombardi had it right in my opinion. At least to some degree. Winning is important and must be regarded as the ultimate goal in every race, contest or game. Why? Because even from a very early age, competitive people realize that losing sucks and winning makes us feel good. Of course, winning doesn't always mean the top of the podium or the most points on a scoreboard.
Winning can be measured in many different ways but, for me, the only real unit of measurement is self satisfaction. When running a race myself or coaching athletes through a race or game the definition of winning is set early in the training cycle or practice. It's a simple formula. Look at the areas of strength that are already in place, identify the weaknesses and assess the realistic potential to improve in both areas. Have a basic idea of where you would be on that day if the race or game was scheduled and then look forward and set a lofty but realistic goal that you want to reach.
Set a plan. Do the work. No excuses. Be ready to overcome obstacles that will get in the way and mentally lead you off track. Know that the motivation isn't going to come from a YouTube video or meme on Facebook. It must be a self motivation that lives in your heart. It can't be just words you say or something you pretend you want because it sounds cool. It must be real, true and non-negotiable. The days will be long, the hours and minutes you dedicate should make you question your sanity and your friends and family will claim you are obsessed. All of that is good. And necessary if you truly have your eye on the prize.
Do all of that and you will win. When it's time to compete you will be prepared, confident and focused to chase the goal. But.... be smart. Don't try to do more than you should or more than you can. Know what you need to do for YOU to be successful and stick to the script as much as possible but adapt quickly to changes or setbacks. Attempting to overreach will always put you in a situation that rarely has a successful outcome.
Does this mean you shouldn't put it all on the line and take chances? Absolutely not. It means that you should consistently put it all on the line but take calculated chances. Being brave and confident is much different than being brave, confident AND stupid. Success and winning are born out of pushing past the perceived limits we have set in our minds and expanding the knowledge of our abilities. If we stay comfortable being comfortable then we will never get better or understand the potential for greatness.
Winning is defined by you. Any improvements gained from the first training session or practice will shine in the overall breakdown of performance when it's all over. They will be easy to see for most people looking but always difficult for the athlete to recognize. Even when ALL the goals are met and the podium, personal record or scoreboard dictate that you are a "winner" there may be a lot of self doubt and questions about what you could have done better.
There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, without it you will begin a slow decline into a losing mentality. Never settling for good enough and always wanting more is the only way to continue winning. Look at the good, learn from the bad and move on. Remember yesterday but focus on tomorrow. Growth comes from true self evaluation and honesty not from the number of likes you get on Facebook. Knowing that you have pulled off a win even when others don't immediately recognize the situation is enough to keep the train on the tracks and headed in the right direction.
In the end, winning and losing isn't measured on a scoreboard, podium, trophy or any other outside judge. When done right- Winning is a mindset that begins with a goal and earned through the self motivation to become better. Being the best at anything is fun to dream about but is rarely a realistic outcome as there is always somebody, somewhere who is willing to work harder and longer than you. But you can easily and realistically continue to strive to become the best that you can be. Will you ever achieve the goal of becoming the best that you can be? I hope not. If you do then you have settled for good enough. Good enough will always mean - Could be better. Be better. Win or don't come home.