How Do You Define Success?

Before I start typing about my actual topic, let me clarify one thing: I love winning.  I’m not a “purple ribbons for everyone” guy who tries to devalue winning and the importance of winning.  I grew up with a twin brother (daily competition!), and I played and coached multiple sports.  I played on an 0-10 college football team, and I played on a 9-1 conference champion college football team.  I coached an 0-9 high school football team, and I coached a 12-1 state championship high school football team.  I’ve interviewed for jobs that I wanted and was offered them, and I’ve interviewed for jobs that I wanted and wasn’t offered.  I value competition, and I love to win (more accurately, I really, really hate to lose).  More of thoughts on that can be found here.

That said…

November brings about the first of three times in the year that parents and the public start asking (demanding?) for the firing of coaches.  Unfortunately, much of the clamor usually (not always!) revolves around the idea of winning.

I don’t value winning as a goal in high school athletics.  As I’ve said before, winning is a by-product of so many things, some of which are controllable while some of which aren’t.  If you value winning as a goal and can’t/don’t win, what can you use as a positive takeaway from the season?  I talk to our coaches about many different things, but winning – at least simply for the sake of winning – isn’t one of them.

So how do you define success in a high school program?  I’ve written about our department’s overall goals, which can be found here.  I feel like we’re doing our jobs if the kids have (1) had fun, (2) learned something about how to compete/win/lose, and (3) learned more about the sport they’re playing.  Would it be great to see all of our teams win all of their games?  Absolutely, but I don’t believe that we need to list that as a goal.  All of our coaches and all of our kids are going to work their tails off to win because that’s what competitive people do.  One of the problems with our current culture is that we’re valuing the result of winning over the process of learning how to win, which is a dangerous reversal when trying to raise productive adults.

As I’ve written before, I give exit surveys to our players at the end of every season (read about those here).  I ask them many questions related to the season to try to gauge their experience throughout the season.  One of the questions I ask is whether or not they felt the season was successful.  At almost a 100% rate, students answer this question based on winning and losing, which is to be expected from kids.  I think that we should expect more than that as adults, though.  I dug back through some survey results from the past to illustrate my point.  I’m going to list some of the student rankings and answers, and you can decide if you think this coach has provided a successful high school experience.

**One caveat – when listing these results, I did remove the top and bottom 10% of answers.  Throughout my time distributing these surveys, I’ve found that there are always a couple kids who LOVE a coach, and a couple kids who HATE a coach.  To find a more accurate average, I’ve removed both of those extremes in this example.

  • When asked whether the head coach appears to know and enjoy coaching the sport, 100% listed agree or strongly agree.
  • When asked whether the head coach respected the kid as a player and as an individual, 100% listed agree or strongly agree.
  • When asked whether the head coach was readily available to discuss questions or concerns, 100% listed agree or strongly agree.
  • When asked whether practices were well organized and whether the head coach fostered sport specific skill improvement, 84% listed agree or strongly agree.
  • When asked if the kid enjoyed playing for the head coach, 90% listed agree or strongly agree (for the record, this number is VERY rarely at 100%; appealing to every kid on a roster is extremely difficult.  I liken it to the number of employees in a business that like working for a boss; rarely do all employees like the same type of leadership).
  • 100% of the kids listed having fun.
  • 93% of the kids reported learning more about how to compete, how to win, and how to lose.
  • 100% of the kids reported learning more about the sport.
  • 100% felt that the head coach worked hard to make the experience a good one.
  • 100% listed feeling pride in self and school as a result of participation.
  • 93% of the kids felt that they had learned personal characteristics that would help them become a better adult.
  • The top adjectives used to describe this coach were encouraging, determined, prepared, friendly, and caring.

Now, as a parent or as a member of John Q. Public, I’m hoping that most people would agree that this coach has been successful in running a high school program.  Isn’t all of that exactly what we want out of both a high school participation experience and from the adult(s) hired to provide that experience?  The kids learned, they had fun, they picked up positive adult characteristics, and they had a positive role model leading them.

What if I told you that the time period including these survey answers encompassed a winning percentage of .111?  Does that change your mind about how successful this coach was?  It shouldn’t.

Agree?  Disagree?  As always, your comments are welcome!

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