Going for Gold: The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding

Alexandra Hughes, Coach

With the Olympics in full swing, “winning” has been a common topic of discussion, trend on social media, and part of nearly every sports headline this month. And as in all sports, there are chosen favorites in every event; there are teams and individual athletes who are expected to win based on their records and reputations. We praise and worship the Gold, Silver, and Bronze. And when the competition is over, we pay no further mind to those who didn’t medal as though their athleticism – and talent, dedication, and grit – are mediocre at best. Aren’t we forgetting that every athlete we’re watching from the comfort of our living rooms is among the best in the world, and medal or not, has achieved the ultimate success in sports?

In his TED Talk, The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding, celebrated UCLA professor and basketball coach John Wooden challenges Merriam-Webster’s and our common definition of success: the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.

Wooden argues that success is not the accumulation of material possessions or recognition, but rather the peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best. Recalling lessons learned from his father he explains that to be truly successful, one must never try to be better than someone else, but always improve one’s own efforts and contribution:

“Never try to be better than someone else,” he says. “And never cease trying to be the best you can be – that’s under your control. If you get too engrossed and involved and concerned in regard to the things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.”

Success is a byproduct of honest effort, and because we all measure it differently – points scored, races won, dollars earned, love given and received – true success cannot be won, regardless of the score on the board.

“You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you’re outscored,” Wooden argues. “If you make the effort to do the best you can regularly, the results will be what they should be.”

We can’t control the performance of our peers, or the distribution of medals when the competition is over; success, and ultimately victory, aren’t measured by the results of just one match. What we do have power over is the decision to show up day after day, give our best and bravest effort, and boldly pursue the glory of our full potential.

Only then will we have succeeded, and only then will we have truly earned the Gold.

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