Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Dan Hawkins (right), Boise State University head football coach, 2001-2005 with BSU head coach Spencer Danielson

~ by Dan Hawkins
Father, Grandfather, Coach

When Theodore Roosevelt wrote these words in his 1913 autobiography, he undoubtedly had no idea how much his wisdom could be applied to the modern-day world of athletics.

It is hard when we lose. It is hard when we get cut. It is hard when we feel like we do not or cannot measure up to what other people are accomplishing. We want to take all these motivational sayings and throw them in the trash and scream like Charlie Brown, “GOOD GRIEF.” (Can you feel the anger and the disappointment?)

The “joy” of engaging in any endeavor has been suffocated by the pressures and expectations of “winning.” Of course, wanting to win, wanting to win the championship, or wanting to get an athletic scholarship is a worthy pursuit. The obstacle occurs when we put the PRODUCT over the PROCESS. We lose the “joy” of the journey because we focus on the outcome.

Elite teams, performers, and coaches know that judging yourself by the scoreboard leaves you empty of the valuable knowledge and experience you gained by simply being in the fires of competition. Success leaves clues: let us learn! (QUIT TRYING TO WIN, AND JUST “BE” A WINNER!)

Think about the beauty of track and field. If a runner finishes a race in fifth place, but records a new PR (personal record), they wish they could have finished higher, but have the satisfaction that they ran better than they ever have before – “JOY.” If a golfer plays their best round ever, the comparison with others is minimal. They played the best they ever have – “JOY.”

So how do we functionally translate a track and field mentality to other sports?

Former MLB Manager, Clint Hurdle would tell you to focus on “quality at bats.” Not average, not RBI, not OPS. So, if you strike out, are you taking good cuts? Are you swinging at good pitches? Are you hitting the ball on the barrel? You might hit the ball hard and the defense makes an out. A hitter who is engaged with the learning of the journey would rather have a “quality at bat” over a poorly hit single any day.

Hall of Fame Rugby coach, Jack Clark of the University of California, will tell you all stats are proprietary. Judge your efforts, your technique, and your performance off stats that you believe are part of the success formula. Jack Clark has won twenty-three national championships and a 90%-win rate. The Cal rugby squad lives by the mantra, “grateful for everything, entitled to nothing.” (ALERT! NO MENTION OF WINNING!)

Regardless of the final score or outcome, study what was learned, NOT what was accomplished. Focus on what you can control, which is never the final outcome. I suggest you subscribe to the Greek concept of Arete, a concept that refers to “excellence of any kind,” especially a person’s full realization of potential. (NOTE: SEE JOHN WOODEN.)
Most great accomplishments are forged through the fires of adversity. Do not shrink back from the Journey. Buen Camino Pilgrims!

“…If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself…” – Desiderata