How does a team show class and respect to their opponent and sport? Is it shaking your opponent's hand? Losing with grace? Winning with respect? Or is it something more?
No matter what side of a contest a team comes out on, the character of the team and its players are shown. Far too often, we focus on not being a poor loser. Don't get me wrong, losing is rough. It's hard to go through the handshakes and "good games" while you're holding that gut-wrenching feeling of the loss and all the emotions it brings.
Great teams, great coaches, and great players will own their losses. No team has ever played a perfect game and lost. No team, probably, has ever played a perfect game, period. Recognizing your team's shortcomings, learning from them, putting plans in place to improve, then executing those plans, is the key to turning a losing effort into a long-term success.
This is the easy part of sports. But how do you win?
Building a winning team isn't necessarily a hard thing to do. Good coaching and the ability to develop a winning team is a skill. Like all skills, if the coach applies their knowledge, experience, and communicates to their players, then their team will be successful and win games. There is a formula to success, and winning coaches will always find a way to win.
However, building a winning team of high-character people more focused on their team, representing their school, and representing their community, rather than individual ego, is both a skill and an art form. The art of character development has become far too scarce in the current world of sports and athletics.
On losing teams there is a common saying, "Success is not defined by wins and losses." Where this mindset is so much more important, and needs to be instilled into every team member, is when you're winning.
Winning games does not define a successful season. Making sure every player walks away at the end of the season a better person, better player, and better citizen of the community defines a successful season.
Win your rivalry games, go undefeated, reach the pinnacle of winning; however, if in doing so, team rules, institutional rules, and basic standards of character are sacrificed, then you have failed as a program. No number of wins will ever justify allowing an absence of character or lack of institutional integrity.
What lessons are being taught when we continue to put Ws in the standings above the integrity of the teams those wins represent?
Champions are not built through titles – trophy shelves are. Champions are built through unwavering integrity, passion for fair competition, and steadfastness of character, especially in the face of adversity.
Character builds strong citizens. Strong citizens build strong communities. Sacrificing character for wins directly undercuts the beauty of sports and has no place in athletics at any level.
Build character. Build people. Build champions.