Winning is a Goal, Not a Purpose

By Nancy Justis, Iowa Youth Sports Initiative

You may not have seen it, but earlier this month Spring Arbor University (Michigan) won the NAIA Division II men's basketball National Championship, its first in school history. I was struck by one of the comments made in the postgame press conference by Cougars head coach Ryan Cottingham. In describing his program's culture, he said, "Winning is our goal, but it's not our purpose." That simple quote has resonated with me ever since, and I'm sharing it today in hopes it might resonate with you, too, as you consider the important role you play in raising and developing champion young people of your own.

A goal is defined simply as "an aim or a desired result," and regardless of what any of us are doing today or where, winning is a great goal to have. Why? Because winning is important. Sports, like life, is competitive. There are winners and there are losers. This is an important lesson for your child to learn and understand, especially if they're planning to do anything big and important in this challenging world.

Wherever responsibility or opportunity exists in life, competition exists, too. It might involve the challenge of competing against someone or something else. More often and more importantly, it's the challenge we all face – our kids included – against ourselves and our own potential. One important part of our responsibility as parents, coaches, and leaders is to help cultivate in our kids the mindset and attitude of a competitor. To help them succeed in the most important areas of life. And to help them achieve that goal we've set before them: to win.

Winning is a great goal, but for champions like Spring Arbor's Ryan Cottingham, and hopefully for each one of us as parents and coaches today, winning is not the purpose. As champions ourselves, we need to see clearly that our purpose must be different than our goal; it must be bigger. Our purpose is more than an aim or a desire, it's the reason we're here, doing this important work. It's our motive. It's our why. For champion parents and coaches, winning is our goal, but it's not our purpose. Developing winners is our purpose.

For champion parents and coaches, winning is our goal, but it's not our purpose. Developing winners is our purpose.

A goal is focused mostly on a result or an outcome, but that purpose is focused more on the everyday process required to help our kids become their very best. A dedication to developing winners means committing to teach, train, prepare, and equip our kids regardless of today's result or outcome. Of course our desire, our hope, our goal is for them to win. But our purpose runs deeper. Our purpose allows us to recognize that there are important lessons available to our kids today even if they didn't win. In fact, some of the most important lessons can only be taught then . It's our purpose that drives us to find those lessons and use them to make our children better, stronger, and more prepared for next time. It's long, slow, difficult work, but that is the process in action.

There are two great reasons why your purpose must be greater than your goal – one that's valuable for the short-term, and another valuable for the long-term. Here's the short-term reason: because the best way to achieve the outcome you want is actually to focus on the process it takes to get there. That means the most effective way to accomplish your goal (for your child to win) is to focus on fulfilling your purpose (to do the work it takes to help him or her become a winner). It's really not rocket science. The more your child thinks like, acts like, and develops the habits of a champion today, the more winning they're inclined to do tomorrow.

Here's the bigger, more important long-term reason to focus on your purpose: because what you're building today, your child will be carrying with them for life. As important as winning might seem today, the truth is your child's playing career will be done sooner than you think or maybe even realize. Their winning in sports will subside. Their trophies will get trashed. All that glory will be gone. What will remain? Those things you've committed to teaching, training, preparing, and equipping your child with every day. The truth is, there's no better training ground for a successful life than the one provided by your child's experience in sports. Take advantage of this time, and long after their playing days have ended, they'll be winning in life where it really matters – as a spouse, a parent, a professional, and a friend. They'll be busy achieving the big goals they'll have in life tomorrow because you got busy fulfilling your most important purpose here today.