The famous American football coach, Vince Lombardi, is credited with saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. He denied saying those exact words but his sentiment becomes clear when you remember he also said “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?”
Like so many cliches, it gains acceptance by regular repetition but that doesn’t make it any less wrong. Winning isn’t everything in anything – let alone sport. It is just one part of the competitive equation. As is losing. Without a loser there can obviously be no winner and,therefore, no contest. And it’s the contest that’s the thing.
Another cynic once said “show me a good loser and I’ll show you someone who has had plenty of practice”. Wrong again.
Being a good loser reflects an understanding of sport that those who focus only on winning will never understand. Sports history abounds with people who fought hard and won their own battles without necessarily taking home the trophy or medal.
It’s one of the reasons I’m so strongly in favour of scoring in junior sports events. At a time when some sports want the children to focus only on playing, I believe it provides a perfect opportunity early in young lives to learn how to win with humility and to lose with grace. More than that, to understand that there is simply no shame in losing. To play sport is to accept that you will either win or lose on any given day. How you handle it is the issue and clearly has meaning way beyond sport.
We have seen plenty of examples in recent times. At the Presidents Cup golf, Indian player Anirban Lahiri needed a small putt to tie his match and, as things panned out, the overall result. Under intense pressure he missed, which prompted one of the commentators to say he had let down not only himself but his team-mates and the staff. What??
He might’ve disappointed himself but he let nobody down. He missed a putt. Life rolls on and he learns from the experience.This at a time when people are still talking about Ben Hunt costing The Broncos the grand final. Ben made a few costly mistakes towards the end but Rugby league is a team game and blame has no part in it. Criticism is always easy from outside the ring.
Wayne Bennett, the most successful of coaches, has interestingly (and somewhat paradoxically) never focused too much on winning. Instead, he endeavours to maximise his side’s performance.
That’s all any of us can do and it won’t always lead to victory.
The enduring memories of this year’s Grand Final will be of a magnificent game and the impact it had on the north of our state. As I’m writing this the Cowboys have just set off on a day trip that will include places as diverse as Mackay and Mt Isa, areas drought devastated and struggling economically. Spirits lift, hope raised, Now, that’s a victory!
There is one other aspect about The Cowboys win that has been little remarked upon: the role of Ben Hannant and Jake Granville. Both were unwanted at The Broncos but proved that sometimes a new environment and a fresh opportunity is all you need. It can be a serious mistake to take your identity from what you do and where you do it. Or to let others define you.
This is something that Ash Barty, our former junior Wimbledon champ has demonstrated so wisely. Ash, to the surprise of many, has withdrawn from the International tennis tour to turn her attention to cricket. Whether she succeeds or not (like Jarryd Hayne when he left for the US) in unimportant.
What matters is that she is pursuing her dream and stepping away from something that, despite her success at it, was not making her happy. Tennis loses, cricket wins. And so does Ash.