My belief as a coach is that the player should never be judged on results, but rather on effort. I do not like to talk about winning and losing, because a focus on outcome breeds an environment of negativity, hubris, and constant uncertainty. This would be the case if the player is treated differently after a loss than after a win, if losing is ever deemed unacceptable, or is the cause of panic.
In my work, in order to ensure that I am giving the player a consistent positive message focused on effort I choose the use the word, “compete.” I latched onto this word during my time as an assistant at the University of Tennessee working under Sam Winterbotham and Chris Woodruff. It was a valuable term to our teams and I continue to spread a similar message in my current coaching.
The word compete really ties into a task oriented approach to achievement-goal theory as discussed in the realm of Mental Training and Performance Enhancement, although there are two different types of orientation for athletes (task and ego). “Competing” also allows the athlete to control what he or she can control which is important in high stress situations when attention narrows.
Task Oriented Athletes
“When task involved, an athlete’s main purposes are to gain skill or knowledge, to exhibit effort, to perform at one’s best, and to experience personal improvement. This athlete is focused on what he or she is doing and is thinking primarily about how to accomplish the task. If such purposes are achieved, the individual feels competent and successful” (Duda & Treasure, 2010).
Ego Oriented Athletes
“When ego-involved, athletes are preoccupied with the adequacy of their ability and the demonstration of superior competence compared to others. Perceptions of competence and subjective achievement, in this case, entail social comparisons with others. High ability is demonstrated for the ego-involved athlete when his or her performance is perceived to exceed that of others or to be equivalent with less effort exerted. The athlete’s focus is on whether he or she is good enough (if confidence is low) and how to prove (rather than improve) his or her high level of competence (if confidence is high)” (Duda & Treasure, 2010).
I believe it is important to follow a task oriented approach to build a solid understanding and commitment to effort and in turn allow the results take care of themselves. This way, it is always considered a success if the athlete is “competing” for every point in a match even if he or she is to come up a little short on the day. Ideally the athlete should actually have a little bit of both approaches (task AND ego) in order to pull from both mindsets depending on what the situation requires, but in my opinion focusing on the tasks is what builds the strongest foundation and consistency. I like what John Wooden said once, “Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort? If so, you may be outscored but you will never lose.”
To me, “competing” means fighting for every point and a willingness to treat each day as a day to improve your game and your habits (practice and competition). It is also a willingness to capitalize on your mistakes. It is important to recognize that the ones that may hurt the most are the best opportunities for learning so during those moments, “compete” to learn.
If you choose to allow this mindset to be a part of your routine and identity your confidence will rise. I cannot guarantee that good things will happen if you compete, but I can guarantee that nothing will happen if you do not.