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Winning Too Often?

It sounds like an oxymoron, but could your young athlete be winning too often?

Winning is obviously good, who doesn't want to feel like a winner? It gives us confidence, it gives positive feedback that all the training is working. Making sacrifices for sport is hard, but if you keep winning, it makes it all seem worth it.

But what could be the downsides? Well, as a coach, an important scenario that I would often discuss with my athletes, is that your biggest win often comes from your worst loss.

By losing, and losing badly, you are tested mentally in a way that winning just does not do. You ask questions of your ability, you review your training and you reflect in detail on the way that you executed your (poor) performance. A promising athlete will lose, and ask themselves 'Why?', on every level.

Most high performance athletes will cite a specific event in their sporting career that represented a turning point and spurred them on to become the success that they are. Although some will recount a motivating podium moment, far more will reflect on a life-changing loss. A 'rock bottom' moment from which they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and said to themselves, 'I never want to go through that again'. This critical turning point fuels the way forward and they become a much better athlete because of it.

However, if a young athlete has bags of natural talent and enthusiasm, as they work their way up the junior age groups towards senior level sport, the likelihood is ,that they will win....a lot. An athlete that has developed physically ahead of their peers may find winning easy, and become complacent, but the reality is that their peers may catch up, and have developed more grit along the way, so therefore overtake them as they transition into senior level.

In team sports coaches will often put out matched teams rather than firsts and seconds in order to mix up the talent and bring athletes on, and this can make winning much harder, and avoid complacency. In individual sports, coaches can avoid tapering into competition, thus an athlete that finds winning a breeze may find themselves tested harder because they are more tired. However all these are tools of the coach. So what can you do as a parent?

The most important tool that you can instil in your young athlete is the ability to reflect and learn from all experiences. Be it winning or losing, it is vital to keep measuring every aspect of performance by asking the right questions. That way, winning can be as much of a learning tool as losing. Here's a list of simple questions that you and your young athlete can reflect on to make the winning count.

  1. Why did you win? Be careful with this one, because the answer could come back – because I'm the best. But are they winning because they have matured early and are therefore bigger and stronger than the others of their age? Are they winning because the standard of competition wasn't that high? It's important to identify the reasons, because as they move up to senior, international level competition, the playing field levels out and the standard only goes up, so it's important to prepare for this.

  2. Could you have done anything better? Whether it's the preparation beforehand, the quality of the warm up, the execution of the race/ competition plan, the recovery strategies – there are endless elements of your own competition strategy that can be assessed and measured whether you win or lose.

  3. What did you learn? This is so important, any form of competition should represent a learning experience. It's easy to learn from losing, but think about how you can learn from winning and avoid wasting a win.

  4. How would your sporting idol have competed today? Sometimes it's easier to measure performance when it's somebody else's. So get your athlete to imagine the sportsperson they most admire competing in the same competition that they've just done. What would they have done differently? Would they have conducted themselves in a different way? Could you learn anything from that approach?

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