Fear and Loathing on the Gridiron

What drives coaches and players to excel?

Money? Fame? Adulation? Destiny?

The reason (or reasons) any one person gets involved in a sport or another are probably as numerous as the people who play the sport.

But I can tell you what drives the best once they are ‘in’. A hatred (or fear) of losing.

Not the money. Or the fame. Rather a debilitating desire to avoid the pain of losing.

This has interesting implications. First of all, those who are driven by their hatred of losing never quite enjoy winning. Winning is merely a temporary reprieve – not something that is usually enjoyed or celebrated.

On the other hand, in losing, a small part of your soul dies. Losing enables the driven to psychologically construct a reality in which all aspects of the loss can be traced back to something that you did or didn’t do. (Alternatively, each win is as a result of the effort and dedication given by the players and other coaches – with an appreciative nod to good fortune).

Second, since the road to every defeat is paved with error, every coach has a certain tendency to coach for error avoidance. Since error is measurable – and perfection is not – you can see how a coach that is driven by the fear of losing can drift towards a paradigm of error avoidance (note: I would argue that perfection is not achievable, and therefore not measurable, but I allow for others to disagree).

For example, the coach that pursues error avoidance to evade losing can therefore only be satisfied by the absence of error by their team. How can one take pleasure in the non-existence of something? Any pleasure one feels is derived from not feeling the pain associated with the alternative, which is this case is losing / error.

A good coach should set a culture that supports striving for excellence – but that is another blog for another time.

The fear or hatred of losing starts to take its toll over time. Think of it like an emotional bank account. Every loss is a (large) withdrawal and every win is a (small) deposit. Unless a coach is able to have the good fortune to be with a program that consistently wins, including championships, the inevitable trajectory of your emotional solvency will be towards bankruptcy.

This perspective can, of course, only really be understood after having been through the process. Which is of course too late – you cannot truly re-live the moment. You can remember and recall, but taken to the extreme (always talking about past good times), is somewhat sad. Happiness is not your memory but rather in that moment.

Now, don’t mistake this for a bleeding-heart argument for “as long as you tried, that’s all that counts”. Nope. Any serious coach that doesn’t die a little when their team loses, isn’t a real coach. They are a fake. A fraud. A fugazi. You gotta be in it to win it.

But what I am saying is that every victory is a gift – and should be celebrated as such.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, there is a strong element of introspection in this blog.

Note to self: enjoy the wins … you’ve earned it.


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