Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rethinking the Definition of Winning and Losing

From the outside, this may seem like it has been a very difficult season for my team at USF. Our record is flat out terrible and we have only won one game so far in our conference. Many people have asked how I am dealing with "losing." Almost daily, I receive encouraging emails to "keep my head up and remember that this experience is not a sprint it’s a marathon" when referring to building this basketball program.

When I took the job as head coach here at USF last May, I knew it was going to be difficult. In fact most deemed it impossible to build a winning program at a place that has been firmly anchored at the bottom for so many years. I am here because I am drawn to the challenge. I see potential, and I believe we will eventually win games. But the question I ask myself now, is are we really losing? We have small victories every single day. Without ever really experiencing "losing," this season has made me rethink the definition of winning and losing.

If I really think about what winning in life is all about, it’s about being challenged to improve every day to be your best. I have seen players on our team improve almost overnight. I have seen players who would never imagine being able to shoot knocking down three-point shots. Players who have never been in shape are asking for extra workouts. Some (although I wish more...) ask me to come in the gym and work extra. Each time we step onto the court we are better than the day before.

Unfortunately, the improvement is not enough to outscore our opponents. We have had to work very hard not to focus on the scoreboard, but rather to play each possession to the best of our ability. When we played Stanford earlier this season, Tara (Stanford head coach and my college coach) came into our locker room and spoke to our team. Ironically, her message was to continue to work to be our best and not worry about the score. The true battle is with yourself and playing the best you can each time you step on the court. Whether you are the top team in the country or you are building a program it’s the same — work hard to be your best.

I admit I don’t like to lose, but I want to win more. Ultimately, the only way to win is to be positive, work hard, and believe we can. I can’t judge where we are by our record, but by the victories we have each day. We will have three seniors play in their last game at USF on Saturday. They will leave here as winners. Anyone who can complete a degree at USF while being a Division 1 athlete is a winner in my book.


Anonymous said...

I coach a small H.S. swim team with no club swimmers. Almost every meet, we're up against bigger, faster teams. There's no way we can win meets.

My swimmers have learned from Day 1that "winning" means improving. Their only true competition is themselves and the clock, nothing else really matters.

If we didn't see winning by this perspective, my kids would never get in the pool and train so hard.

Anonymous said...

It is always about progress, not perfection. If we ever see ourselves as perfect, there is nothing left. But if we progress everyday, we achieve something every day. May you and USF continue to progress every moment, on and off the court.

John Robbins

Anonymous said...

We watched your team play in San Diego against USD. I sense improvement but not enough to maybe outscore opponents. You can tell from the players (most) hustle that they are striving to be better. You're right if they can play Div 1 and graduate they are winners! Good luck and we hope to see you next year in San Diego.

Bruce and Emily Lane

Geno said...

Progress is a wonderful thing to keep you motivated on a daily basis but you know it all comes down to talent and recruitment. Own your backyard, AZ! You can do it! Outwork them for talent. I know you love and respect Tara but you have to kick her ass in the living room. I love the motto: To Be The Man, You Gotta Beat The Man.
Now, get on that baseline AZ and RUN!

Tammy Carter said...

I love the "small victories everyday"! That's exactly what it's about. I believe you will continue to grow and have those scoreboard victories in time. The small victories will start to add up and then, watch out Cardinal! ;-)Your team is probably learning SO many life lessons from you right now that it makes it SO worth it! Great job Jennifer and keep going!

Jetta Tatom said...

Your write-up was fantastic... well said. We have been taught as children that winning is defined by being a champion. But it doesn't matter what we're talking about, whether it be sports, work, life, family, etc. to really win means to stick with something, to keep trying and not give up, to make improvements or realize you are at your best, but to really care, and most importantly to feel that you can love yourself in the process. Success doesn't just happen, there are building blocks that we put in place routinely to create the outcome of our efforts. If we try, if we work hard, if we care, and if we are honest in what we do, that to me defines success and winning.

Jennifer, I have been a basketball fan of yours for many years, I am also a fan of your principles. You have a great spirit!

Elmer Gantry said...

I was at the Stanford game,if you believe in destiny,imagine the series of events leading up to you being a part of Coach Tara's 800th win,the night was full of love,magic,also a basketball game was played, and everyone that was in War Memorial Gymnasium that night is a winner.Keep it going coach, you're on my short list of heros.