Learning How To Win

Kevin Durant leads his young Oklahoma City teammates against more veteran teams like the San Antonio Spurs.

“They’re learning how to win” is an old sports cliche.

It seems to be repeated most during basketball season and I was reminded of it Monday night as I watched the highlights of the Spurs-Thunder game on SportsCenter. After having a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, the young Oklahoma City team let the veteran Spurs squad back in the game and ended up falling when a last-second three-pointer missed.

The theme of repeated defeat before grand victory is common throughout athletics.

Larry Bird’s Celtics beat up on Michael Jordan’s Bulls for the better part of a decade. Tim Duncan’s Spurs overran Kobe Bryant’s Lakers several years after Shaquille O’Neal left. The younger players faced disappointment after disappointment before getting their hands on the prize.

It’s a part of life, too.

Regardless of your path, whether star player or lowly employee, you’ll face obstacles on the ladder of achievement. Doubts will surface before you try, you’ll wonder if you’re really capable while making the effort and then feel the sting of sadness when your actions are in vain.

You will have dozens of letdowns before you get what you’re after.

Remind yourself it’s OK to fall short. (Well, unless you’ve chosen a career jumping across canyons.) In the moments after things go awry, it’s critical you take time for two things:

1. Analysis
Every franchise has meetings between players, coaches and general managers after a season is completed. This period of reflection allows everyone to determine what led to defeat and correct it. After all, the most successful teams realize winning is more about mental toughness and calm execution in tight moments than good fortune.

When the initial shock of your setback wears off, take time to ask yourself a few questions:

“What can I do differently? Is there something I can tweak for better results?”

“Are there pieces I’m missing? Should I look into more training or find some support?”

“What did I do well? Can I use some things as the foundation for succeeding next time?”

2. Encouragement
The more difficult of the two, mentally picking yourself up after being knocked down is key to your future. In John C. Maxwell’s book Failing Forward, the primary characteristic he points to as the difference between achievers and strugglers is mindset. It’s simple and challenging, but remembering you’ll recover and create better results is the crucial first step in climbing–or re-climbing–any mountain. Even in your darkest hours, cling to the good and be grateful for it, even if all you can say is “I’m alive and loved.” That’s a start…and a better one than you might think at the time.

Everyone wants to hoist the trophy. You must play to win. Instead of facing an adversary bent on prying the spoils of triumph away from you, realize your only aim is to get the best from yourself. We each have our own blue ribbon to earn and failure gives us an opportunity to improve. Losing is a necessary stepping stone to success and the foundation of record-setting winning streaks.

Even at your peak, you’ll still lose from time to time. How will you use defeat to make sure you win?

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