The Conflict

Too often, leading coaches and athletes have categorically stated how important it is to have fun and enjoy themselves while playing, only to immediately embrace a “win at all costs” attitude as soon as their chance at victory comes under threat. Similarly, coaches will sing the praises of athletes who push the limits and try new things. However if they do so in a pivotal moment of a crucial match and it doesn’t come off, they’ll be read the riot act for taking unnecessary risks, being a selfish player or acting in an irresponsible manner.

Rather than proposing that there needs to be a balance of winning, enjoyment and learning, where one is sacrificed for the other, we intend to suggest something quite the contrary. What we believe is that ultimate success is necessarily encapsulated by the component elements of authentic enjoyment, optimal learning and their resultant victories, rather than one at the expense of the others. As prime motivators and indicators of success, enjoyment, learning and winning have generally been considered polarised opposites at the ends of their respective continuums. Interestingly, the traditional model allows you to enjoy yourself if you set out to win and succeed in doing so, but also unequivocally implies that if you set out to enjoy yourself and succeed, you will almost certainly lose. The principle also applies to learning in much the same way.It seems, unsurprisingly, the motivating reason someone plays totally determines how they play. Accordingly, it will likely as not also determine how well they play in relation to the score.

We are suggesting that the way things stand regarding winning, enjoyment and learning as priorities in competitive sport, many coaches and athletes have it backwards. What if playing to win is actually limiting how well they play? And what if, rather than going too far with notions of enjoying the journey and/or using competition to learn and thereby risking defeat, coaches aren’t going anywhere near far enough and are consequently failing to even envision the very real possibilities of previously unheralded success?

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