I do not have a soccer background. I did not play soccer as a kid and, while I appreciate the sport, I did not have a burning desire to coach a soccer team until my daughter asked me to coach her team last season. I agreed to coach, mostly because she has some type of mystic power over me that I can’t quite explain, but also because I thought it might be fun to work with kids that were 4 and 5 years old. All of them were participating in their very first organized competition and playing on their first team.
I learned many things from the experience, starting with the fact that I needed to quickly adjust my expectations. I went from giving motivational speeches to just hoping that my team would pay attention long enough to stop picking up sticks and pulling grass while the game was being played.
There were no scoreboards, but I witnessed first hand what I had long suspected. We are born with an innate sense of competition. Despite the fact that the score was never advertised or discussed during the game, these 4 and 5-year-old kids knew who was winning and who was losing. This experience confirmed that before we are old enough to fully reason things out or to think logically, we know the importance of keeping score.
My team lost more often than we won, but when we did win a game, the kids felt great. They congratulated each other and the other team on a good game and they talked about how many goals they scored and they talked about looking forward to the next game. They earned the satisfaction of knowing that their efforts had paid off and they experienced the reward of teamwork.
When they lost a game, they still congratulated the other team, but they didn’t feel all that great. Sometimes they talked about the mistakes they made and sometimes they moped for a while. They knew they didn’t like that feeling and many of them went home thinking about what they were going to do to make sure that they did not lose again.
Even though my focus was on teaching fundamentals and promoting good sportsmanship, I never discouraged the kids from keeping score because they were learning valuable lessons whether they won or lost. They participated in a competition individually and as a team and found out for themselves what it was like to achieve success and what it felt like when they fell short. Unfortunately, these are lessons they would not learn if a growing trend on the part of our society to not keep score continues to gain momentum.
If you are a parent of a child who has recently participated in any type of sport, you have probably already seen this trend in action. You have likely heard phrases like “everyone is a winner” or “there were no losers today.” In these cases, great efforts and hard work tend to be diluted and those who are not dedicated and actively engaged are encouraged because they will receive the same reward as everyone else after the game or at the end of the season.
What does this teach our children and what type of false mentality are we passively or actively creating with these examples? Whatever the answer, it is not consistent with real life.
Winning and losing are part of life and keeping score is the main measurement of how well we are doing or not doing in the pursuit of winning. Winning is not an entitlement and the joy of winning cannot be created by a false or meaningless declaration.
If your life isn’t about the pursuit of excellence in every way, shape, or form then what it is about? If you are not out there every day attempting to be a better person, a better neighbor, a better employee, spouse, or parent and keeping score of how well you are doing, then what are you doing?
Keeping score can apply to a competition with others, but it should most often apply to your own personal competition to be the best that you can be. Whether you choose to keep score or not, be advised that the world around you will keep score for you.
If you don’t apply yourself at work and make it a point to accomplish goals, you will ultimately lose your job. If you don’t keep track of your finances in a responsible manner, you will lose your credit rating and eventually your access to credit and if you don’t set out to win the heart of your spouse everyday…well, you get the picture.
Vince Lombardi, often thought of as an expert on winning, is credited with saying “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence” and that “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”
He was absolutely right. He also probably knew that the more vested you are in something, the more likely you will be to work to protect it and nurture it. Only then, will you appreciate the true value of your efforts and you can only appreciate the true value of your efforts when you appreciate the difference between winning and losing.
For the kids on the soccer team who are just beginning their life learning curve, they will go forward a little wiser and a little better equipped for their future. They have many wins to look forward to and many scores to keep.
The poor coach, on the other hand, is having a much harder time. He knows full well how hard it is to win in life and all he can do is think about how he can improve his coaching skills and lead next year’s team to a championship, but that’s a story for another time.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.