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January 19th, 2011

Is Winning Important?

I want to go on record as saying that in my forty years of involvement in sports and martial arts, I’ve had good coaches, incredible coaches and bad coaches.

I’ve been trained by Olympic and world champions, national champions, masters and grand masters.

But the very best coaches never emphasized winning as the only thing. But they sure as hell were disappointed when I didn’t win.

Some coaches handled failure poorly. And I did at times, as well.

The great coaches I’ve had though, taught me how to handle victory, which meant no resting on one’s laurels.

Yes, there have been moments when a coach said the wrong thing to me. Occasionally, they called me a name I didn’t like. But of all the things said to me that I didn’t like, two things stand out.

The first was when a coach called me “champ” before a tournament began. In almost every case when I was called “champ” before the competition had begun, I lost.

The second demotivator happened a second before I ran out on the mat to compete. The coach shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “Go out there and have fun.”

I did anything but have fun in the match I was told to have fun in. And this second situation leads me to an important point I would like to make today.

In youth sports today, many coaches are telling the athletes that they want them to have fun. And I agree with them. The saddest sight in sports is watching young kids pouting and crying over a game that won’t mean much a week from now.

At the same time, however, I think it’s important to explain to an athlete what fun is. In my early twenties when a coach told me to go out there and have fun, my mind drew a blank. I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. To me, fun is going out and giving it everything you’ve got to whoop your opponent.

Fun is executing the techniques you’ve practiced flawlessly. Fun is breaking records. Fun is giving more than you think you’ve got. Fun is competing with enthusiasm, hustling and being courageous in the midst of fear, worry or self-doubt.

If the same coach who told me to go out and have fun had said, “ Stay loose and relax, give it everything you’ve got and mop the floor with this guy” I would have been motivated, rather than demotivated.

So I’m concerned when I hear coaches telling athletes to “have fun” with no explanation of what that looks like. To a kid, having fun could very well mean playing with his X-Box, watching tee-vee or running around in ADD mode. Right? So fun needs to be explained.

Yesterday, when working with my son’s little league baseball team I explained to the kids what fun is. Fun is practicing what you love. Fun is playing the game you love with a good attitude about making mistakes and how to correct them. Fun is doing things fast. Fun is hustling. And fun is playing with enthusiasm.

The late John Wooden, never talked to his athletes at UCLA about winning. And he coached his team to 10 NCAA titles in 12 years.

On the other hand, Wooden never talked to his athletes about having fun. In fact, he created a Pyramid of Success, with the building blocks of what it takes to succeed. And the two cornerstones on that Pyramid were hard work and enthusiasm. Wooden said he never saw anyone succeed in anything who didn’t understand and employ those two cornerstones.

Unlike Wooden, I like to use the word “practice” instead of work. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter because we’re both saying the same thing. If you want to succeed you need to “work hard” or “practice more than anyone else.”

If you think what I’ve written here makes sense, then I absolutely know you’re going to love reading The Unbeatable Man. In this book, there’s no talk about having fun, but there’s a lot of talk about what it really takes to succeed in anything. As you read this book you’ll probably chuckle when you discover how “fun” is not the measuring stick of success.

Go to theunbeatableman.com and place your order now.


Matt Furey

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