I was watching Diamond League Athletics on Friday night and during one of the middle distance races the commentators were talking about running fast times and winning. Their opinion was that running a world record in a race that didn't bring a medal with it was an inferior feat to winning a medal with an average personal performance in a race where average was enough to beat the rest of the field.
I hear this type of thinking time and time again. Football fans who would rather results than performances. Gym goers who want big lifts over good form. I'm sure we would all prefer both but where are we best placing our attention – on the result or bettering the processes that take us towards a result?
I don't know if there is a correct answer here but what I would like to do is talk about bettering the processes that lead to the result because I believe that doing so will offer a level of balance to the general opinion out in the world.
Let us take the example of running. I have a 100m personal best of 10 seconds (if only this wasn't an imaginary scenario!). If I run against opponents to win, I will be looking at what they are doing while I am racing. Whether I am faster than them or not, giving them my attention will no doubt slow me down a little. With this aside, winning is completely out of my hands anyway. If Usain is in the race, I will probably lose to him even if I run my best time. I may even run a better time than ever and still lose. If I am running with the priority of winning and this happens, I have failed. Only by the luck of me winning will I feel good about the race.
If I race to better my running, the scenario unfolds differently. My focus is on what I am doing. This allows me to execute to the best of my ability at that time. This gives me my best chance of winning. It also allows me to pick up on any parts of my execution that I can improve next time which also increases my chances of winning in the future. If I win the race because my best that day was better than my competitors, that is a wonderful bonus alongside the wealth of info I have gleaned to keep running better. If I lost, I have still gleaned a wealth of info to keep running better. If I run to improve my running rather than to win, I cannot fail. I can only learn.
I have watched many dull football matches down the years. I have seen many teams who play drab football win games and trophies. Apart from that team's followers, nobody cares. In fact, fans of other teams and neutral fans sometimes dislike these mechanical teams that play safe, percentage football. These teams are booed. They are uninspiring. Contrast this with teams who play exciting football, full of risk taking. They have fans the world over. Even fans of opposition teams have respect for the way they play. Even when they lose, their epic performances can live on in the memory for decades.
I think most of us want to win and perform well. Given the choice to win like a loser or lose like a winner, I think that taking risks, investing ourselves in our performance and not playing afraid of losing will give us our best shot at winning and performing well.
Play in a way that you can enjoy and celebrate, win or lose.
I don't know who went on to win the 1992 400m men's Olympic gold, but I do know who Derek Redmond is.