Wanting to win

Whether in sports or other parts of life, playing the game with an unwavering desire to win brings out the greatest learning and satisfaction. Working cohesively with a team that wants to win, even in the face of recurring failure, makes everyone a winner.

Wanting to win by Nancy Knowlton

Every week that I played college basketball, the cadence was the same. We would practice Monday through Thursday, preparing to play our adversary on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. We would review their offensive and defensive strategies, walking through the key things that our coach wanted us to recognize during the game. We would also prepare to defend against their top scorers and have some insight into their favorite plays. A great amount of energy would be spent honing our offense, because scoring was critical to success.

Steady effort toward winning

Then on Friday and Saturday we would play the games, and at the end of the game the score on the clock would give us the feedback on how well we had done. There really wasn’t much time to adapt to a competitor after the game on Friday, so Saturday was often a repeat of Friday. We would have Sunday off to rest and relax and then start all over again preparing for a new competitor on Monday.

The thing that stands out for me in hindsight was the singular focus that we had on the preparation to win. Every week started with optimism and a tangible plan tailored to the upcoming games. The greatest value in the whole experience was wanting to win, not actually winning. Of course, we liked winning better than losing – who doesn’t? But we came back week after week, eager to prepare to win, even against opponents who seemed unbeatable.

Invested in winning

Every game has a winner and a loser, but it’s not just the winners who come out on top – it’s everyone who cares enough to want to win. That caring produces commitment that leads to a whole series of lessons learned. It brings out character and helps players understand what they’re made of.

Our society places the highest value on those who win the most games, who win the big games, who score the most points or who have the most assists or rebounds. But what about the supporting cast, the others whose names aren’t in the headlines, at the top of the scoring ranks or on the winning teams? These people may not go to the next level in the sport, but they, too, have wanted to compete and win. They have put in the time and made the same commitment as those who have excelled, and that is a valuable investment.

Motivated teamwork

As it turns out, being on sports or other teams has some relevance to the rest of one’s life. Much work today is done in teams and knowing how to positively interact with team members is a valuable skill that can be nurtured and developed from a young age. Learning how to deal with winning and losing is important – you’re never quite as good or as bad as a score in a game may suggest. Digging down and giving that extra effort when behind in a game reveals a strength and determination that is satisfying and often enough to produce a win. Accepting a role and playing it to the best of one’s ability is common on all teams. Intrinsic motivation that allows a person to come back after a crushing defeat and adapt strategies to react to a changing external factor like a competitor is needed as much in the business world as on the court.

Winning and losing

So I always play to win, but I recognize that there is a lot more to the outcome than just the score. The game of life and business play out over a long time, far more than a couple of halves, and there is constant preparation against a new competitor and changing conditions. I look at the score along the way (it’s often a lot more subtle than what’s on the score clock) and acknowledge that at some points I am winning and at some I am losing. But for me, wanting to win over a sustained period of time is the key to my participation and enjoyment.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.