John F. Russell: The reason to play
July 29, 2007
Steamboat Springs — For most of my life, I have believed the main goal of the game, and I mean any game, is winning.
It didn’t matter if it was a little league baseball game, a pick-up basketball game or a game of Monopoly. I was always driven to measure success and failure on the final outcome.
I continued to live believing winning was the most important part of playing until I met my wife – who has been trying to set me straight ever since.
You see, it was OK to be competitive when I was playing a game of hoops with the guys back in college, but it’s not a good approach to a game of Pictonary on family game night.
For years, my wife has been trying to change the way I perceive games – and I’ll be the first to admit that’s not an easy job. If she succeeds someday, she should be nominated to become a saint.
It’s similar to the challenge Alpine ski coach Tom Davis has been faced with as a coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
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For years, he’s been trying to convince the athletes he coaches that there is more to ski racing than winning.
But he admits that, in our society, the games we play seem to measure success and failure the same way I have. We celebrate those who win, and those who don’t normally are forgotten. It’s not right, but it’s the way things are.
Davis, who is leaving the club at the end of summer to pursue his master’s degree at the University of Colorado at Denver, said the notion that every skier who steps into the gate should shoot to win is crazy.
He’s quick to point out there can be only one winner in a ski race, and the fields normally are much bigger that that. A ski racer who measures success in terms of winning is doomed to failure.
The coach has stressed to his athletes that success needs to be measured in terms of improvement and a racer’s own personal goals. Ski racers who are willing to push the limits of the hill for their own personal satisfaction and passion for the sport will be happy. The racer who does it only to win will be faced with a career full of frustration and disappointment.
Davis said he has spent years trying to unravel the belief that winning is the only thing that matters.
I admire this approach to the game, but I’m not sure I totally agree with it. Remember, in my world, the fuel for success and improvement comes from the opportunity to win. I’m trying to come to grips with that, but until then, I’ll be the first to admit it’s a good thing I’m not a coach.
Because while I believe winning is important, I’ve seen firsthand how destructive focusing that single goal can be. I’ve seen skiers and other athletes lose their passion for the game because they can’t find success without victory. On the other hand, I’ve witnessed athletes who had no business winning find success by pursuing the game out of love for it.