Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi’s oft-repeated quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” has never quite resonated with my own athletic experience. The truth is, I’ve lost enough races and games throughout my athletic career that interpreting Coach Lombardi’s words literally could have some very depressing consequences for yours truly. Don’t get me wrong, I love winning and hate losing as much as anyone, and probably more than most, but it would probably be a bit counter-productive to tell my rowers after they have all achieved personal bests on the ergometer (rowing machine) that they’re all losers because they didn’t break any world records.
Regardless of the forum in which we compete, we invariably compare ourselves to our competition. For some of us, the competition may take the form of our neighborhood jogging buddy, while for others it’s the guy trying to take our spot on a varsity sports team. While competition is unavoidable, healthy and motivational, we cannot ultimately define our success in relation to those against whom we are competing. Only the very elite athlete can use the performances of his peers as an absolute standard against which he can measure his level of success, and even a top-level athlete can perform his best and still not win. Does that diminish the significance of the athlete’s accomplishments? The answer is, only if he lets it.
Unless we reside at the absolute apex of a discipline, measuring success on an absolute scale can leave us feeling like we’ve come up short. It’s important to understand that, while we can use our genetics, we can’t change them. All of us, from the elite level athlete to the recreational jogger, reap far greater rewards from our fitness plans if we evaluate ourselves based on an honest assessment of the extent to which we sought out and overcame challenges over the course of the training process and the improvements in our fitness that were its consequence.
By all accounts, Coach Lombardi was a genius at what he did. His record certainly wouldn’t indicate anything to the contrary. For now, though, I’m going to try to avoid a coup d’etat within my team by praising their performance the next time they all pull personal bests – even if they’re a few seconds off the world record.
Published On: February 17, 2006