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A New Perspective On 'Winning'

If you want to win at a high level, then stop focusing on winning!

Many of you had to re-read that last sentence twice, didn’t you? But I meant it! Allow me to explain.

When you focus on the scoreboard, you are using a results oriented mindset. You are merely comparing yourself to your opponent.

Let’s be honest. How much control do we really have over our opponent’s level of talent, effort or preparedness? The answer is absolutely none. The problem is that a winning mindset’ or ‘scoreboard mindset’ conflicts with all of the latest research regarding peak performance.

What performance psychologists would tell us is that to maximize performance, focus only on the things that we can control. When an athlete feels like they are in control, they will not only play more freely, but they will play harder, with more emotion and passion. More importantly, they will work harder in practice and during the off season. They will also be more empowered to overcome adversity and bounce back from failure.

The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a national advocacy organization whose mission is to change the culture of youth sports. They advocate that the key to maximizing performance in athletics is to move from a Results (scoreboard) mindset to a Mastery (growth) mindset which focuses on growth.

PCA uses this*" ELM Tree" acronym to help coaches and athletes focus solely on 3 key elements that an athlete can fully control:




Effort through preparation and hustle.

Learning with an emphasis on having a teachable mind set and being a student of the game.

Mistakes are OK because as long as the athlete doesn’t lay blame and point fingers, they will learn and grow from their failures.

PCA even goes so far as to teach athletes how to "flush" mistakes by using a physical ritual immediately after mistakes such as wiping the forehead and flicking your wrist as if to 'wipe off the mistake'. The athlete is essentially saying to themselves – “No sweat…I’ve got this!"

Effort, Learning and embracing Mistakes as learning opportunities are 3 key facets of growth that an athlete can control. Feeling in control not only empowers athletes to play more freely, but also to work harder, improve endurance and be more effective at growing through and overcome adversity. Doing these things lead to mastery in any endeavor!

If you’re an athlete wanting to be your absolute best, or a coach wanting to maximize the potential of your athletes, then incorporate these concepts and know that the scoreboard will take care of itself.

Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden who lead his team to 11 straight national championships suggested... "If you're victorious versus a lessor opponent or if you get lucky and win, are you a Winner? Alternatively, do your best and loose versus a superior opponent and loose and you’re a looser? I don’t see it that way...”

Here are 2 tips on how you can create a culture of growth for yourself or your team.

First, set growth oriented goals, not performance oriented or results goals.

According to Nick Saban, these were the team goals of 2003 National Champion LSU Tigers as laid out by their senior leaders:

1. Be a Team – Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

2. Work to Dominate Your Opponent.

3. Positively Affect Our Teammates.

4. Individual Responsibility for Self

5. Be Champions On and Off the Field.

Nothing above says anything about Wins and Losses, does it?

Second, emphasize and reward effort and actions, not results.

For and athlete, this would mean to take pride in the preparation, the hard work and the effort that you put forth toward improving your craft. For a coach this would mean acknowledging an athlete’s actions and efforts, not results. For example, if one of your receivers who is being used as a decoy on a particular play runs hard and occupies the correct defender, then that should be recognized and rewarded just as much, if not more than the receiver who catches the ball and scores a touchdown.

If you want to be a champion, then focus on growth.

Embrace the process involved in the journey to mastery, and let the results speak for themselves.

Coach Smith

About the author

Eric Smith is a former NCAA Division 1 Quarterback and High School Football Coach. Eric is the owner and director of Winning Edge Quarterback Training Academy in Durham, NC where he coaches and mentors aspiring quarterbacks. He also hosts Quarterback / Receiver Skill Development Camps throughout North Carolina & Northern CA.

Eric is also a certified Leadership Speaker, Trainer and Coach for the John Maxwell Leadership Team. He enjoys speaking to organizations about the mechanics and physics of developing leadership, culture and behavior.

To connect with Coach Smith you can call him at 919-892-3355 or visit or email him at follow on Twitter at @winningedgeqbr or Facebook at

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