ATHLETES FIRST, WINNING SECOND
Successful Coaching (1997). A Publication for the American Sport Education Program and the National Federation Interscholastic Coaches Association. Rainer Martens, PhD. Human Kinetics.
A Philosophy of Winning - A Winning Philosophy
No single decision is more important in determining how you coach than your priority for the three objectives – 1) to have a winning team; 2) to help young people have fun; 3) to help young people develop.
Many coaches face a dilemma about their objectives when they coach. Society clearly rewards winners. Yet society also looks to sport as a means to help young people try out life, build character, and develop leadership skills. Coaches who want to help young people develop physically, psychologically, and socially through sport often find they are evaluated only on their win-loss record. Perhaps altruistic at first, too many veteran coaches are conditioned by the organizations for whom they coach to pursue the objective of winning regardless of the cost.
This must change, and coaches must take responsibility for making the change. While society may be fickle about its objectives for sport participation, coaches must resist the forces that encourage them to win at all costs. Coaches now more than ever need to be clear about their objectives when coaching.
Consider the following objective as the cornerstone for your coaching philosophy. It is an objective that many national sport organizations, experienced and successful coaches at all levels, professional educators, and physicians endorse. It is an objective that needs to be put into practice: Athletes First, Winning Second
Athletes First, Winning Second is an objective simple to state, but not simple to implement. Today many sport organizations are led by administrators who demand that coaches reverse this objective, either because winning is their personal objective or because these administrators are pressured by others. Coaches who skillfully help young people become better humans but fail to win an often unknown quota of games are considered losers, and all too often are fired. This is the regrettable reality in sport today, but it must and will change. In the final analysis, it’s not how many games you win, but how many young people you help to become winners in life.
If you believe the Athletes First, Winning Second is the right priority, resist the temptations to abandon your principles. Stick to your principles and seek to convert those who are pressuring you to win.
BILL OF RIGHTS FOR YOUNG ATHLETES
Right to participate in sports
Right to participate at a level commensurate with each child’s maturity and ability
Right to have qualified adult leadership
Right to play as a child and not as an adult
Right of children to share in the leadership and decision-making of their sport participation
Right to participate in safe and healthy environments
Right to proper preparation for participation in sports
Right to an equal opportunity for success
Right to be treated with dignity
Right to have fun in sports.
Keeping Winning in Perspective
Remember that striving to win the game is an important objective of the contest, but it is not the most important objective of sport participation. It is easy to lose sight of the long-term objectives - helping athletes develop physically, psychologically, and socially - while pursuing the short-term objective of winning the contest, because the rewards for winning are immediate and powerful. Winning or striving to win is never more important than athletes’ well-being, regardless of the mixed messages our society sends. Ask yourself if you will be able to keep those long-term goals in sight not only during practice but in the heat of a contest, not only when I am winning but when I’m losing, not only when I have the support of my administrator, but when he or she pressures me to win?
When winning is kept in perspective, sport programs produce young people who enjoy sports, who strive for excellence, who dare to risk error in order to learn, and who grow with both praise and constructive criticism. When winning is kept in perspective, there is room for fun in the pursuit of victory - or, more accurately, the pursuit of victory is fun. With proper leadership, sport programs produce young people who accept responsibilities, who accept others, and most of all who accept themselves.
Successful coaches help athletes develop physically, psychologically, and socially. And successful coaches strive to achieve their personal goals without jeopardizing their athlete’s well being.
Success is Not Winning
The basic problem in this issue of worthiness is that athletes learn from parents, coaches, teammates, and the media to gauge their self-worth largely by whether they win or lose. The devastating result of this belief is that athletes can maintain their sense of self-worth only by making others feel unworthy. The most important thing you can do as a coach to enhance the motivation of your athletes is to change this yardstick of success.
Winning is important, but it must become secondary to striving to achieve personal goals. Success must be seen in terms of athletes exceeding their own goals rather than surpassing the performances of others. If your coaching helps athletes understand and implement this principle, you will do more to help them become excellent athletes - and successful adults – than by any other coaching action.