Skip to content

“The greatest victory is not winning against people, but winning against self.” [Tweet this.]

kids at the park 2I was at a park last week with a couple of my kids.

Near the playground was a giant field hosting a soccer practice. We watched the players and heard the coach. He’d yell commands at his troops like he was a drill sergeant. We laughed at his intensity and then heard the instruction: “Come on, damn it! If you wanna win you gotta play like it matters!”

Now, there is a time for anger…and there certainly is a time to challenge players to give a little more, to try a little harder.

But it’s important to keep in context that this is the middle of the summer, it’s hot and humid, it’s just a practice…and the players were eight-years-old.

It reminded me of a moment that changed my life, a very different experience with soccer, when I was about that age, and the coach that made it possible.

After being burned it took almost a full year to learn how to walk again. One of the first activities I participated in after relearning to walk was soccer. Since the skin on my legs was so fragile, I wrapped my legs with ace bandages, wore two pairs of sweatpants and my gold shorts on top. I had an awkward gait, could barely run, but was treated like every other player by Coach Steiner.

In my very first game back there was an opportunity for a penalty kick near the end of the game. The score was tied two-to-two. This was our chance. This was the moment for the coach to select his best sharp-shooter, line him up, smash the ball,  score the goal, and win. Win.

And I’ll never forget having my name called by Coach Steiner.

“Johnny, come over here.”

I hobbled over, slightly bent over.

“Look at me, you’re taking this for us. I need you to kick that ball as hard as you can. Go get it.”

He patted me on that back. I jogged off with my sweatpants and gold shorts. Stood behind the PK line. Lined up the ball. Looked at the keeper. Waited for the ref. Heard my own breathing. Then the ref’s whistle. And took the shot.

The ball rolled slowly toward the left goal post, the goalie dived to save it, trickled just past his outstretched hands, and into the back of the net.

I scored a goal!

We won the game!

No, I don’t mean we scored more goals than our opponent. I don’t remember what the final score was.

And no, we didn’t win because I scored the goal. We won the game because some coach had the audacity to line up a 10-year-old, burned up, bent over, little kid to show every other player, every other coach, and every parent on the bleachers what real victory looks like.

You see, real success is not the ability to score the goal, but the dogged determination to try; the greatest victory is not winning against others, but winning against yourself.

Today, as you drive your kids to camps, as you race to your next meeting, as you sprint into the next appointment, as you climb the ladder of success, keep in mind what real success looks like, what the real goal is for today, and its profound impact on tomorrow. [Tweet this.]

This is your day to line up, take the risk, and kick the ball with everything you have. This is your day to celebrate with others a real victory. This is your day to wake up, and like Coach Steiner, to Live Inspired.

Recall an experience you had growing up where a coach made a powerful impact on you. For better…or for worse…I want to hear your experience. Share in the comments below!

0 replies on “Do You Play Like It Matters?”

My story is about 5 girls who taught their softball coach a lesson. 8 years ago, as I coached my twin daughters softball team through a winless season, I didn’t hear one complaint from any of “my girls”. During the end of the year tournament, for our elimination game, only 5 girls could make it. Not 1 of those 5 firls wanted to forfeit so we played the game and wouldn’t you know it, we came within 1 out of actually winning our first game of the season. We had fans from the team we were playing, as well as from all of the other teams, rooting for us and actually gave our girls a standing ovation after the game was over. Each one of those 5 girls still talks about that game to this day and I could not have been prouder of those five 11 year old girls. That showed that even when the odds are stacked against you, you can only hope to win if you actually play the game!

Great story John. I remember when I was 15 years old my brother and I got put on this sorta misfit Little League Team. We had signed up late that year and they didn’t have enough coaches for the number of players. We actually were told we would not be able to play. But what they did was take all the late sign up players and put them on one team. Then if they couild find a coach we would be able to play, they found a man to coach us, Coach Rizzo, and his father helped him. We may have been the original Bad News Bears. Here’s the deal, Coach Rizzo and his dad were probably the best coaches I had in my entire life. We didn’t win many games, not because of the lack of effort on the coaches behalf, but those 2 taught us all more about life and sportsmanship than all my other coaches combined. Coach Rizzo’s dad had played at the professional level at some time in his life and taught me some pitching skills that I passed on to all the kids I coached through the years. Coach Rizzo took time to recognize every players ability and made them feel like a star even if you may not have been one. He made sure all of us would get home safely from practices and games. The man genuinely cared about us. God Bless Coach Rizzo.

Love this story. Reading a book called “Nuture Shock” about raising kids in this world today. One chapter discusses parents constantly telling their kids they are “smart”. Everyone telling our kids they are the best- trophies for everyone! It says we should encourage and reward “effort”. Actual studies done said kids who were told they were smart wouldn’t try new, difficult things because they were afraid to fail and disappoint. But kids who were complimented on their efforts no matter the outcome, kept trying. Makes sense. Isn’t this an interesting concept? We need more Coach Steiners.

My 8th grade teacher, Mr. Costello, was the best “coach” I ever had. I was shy and didn’t have much confidence, but with his help and his incorporation of a class called “Values” I learned so much about myself and life. I became confident and more outgoing and was ready for high school. He was young, fun, played the guitar, and knew how to make connections and build relationships. Mr. Costello was a great role model.

Gosh…. I’m the kid that got chosen last. I’m the kid that refused to dress out in P.E. because the teacher didn’t know how to stop the kids from yelling at the klutzy kid. And I’m the one that took care of my mom with dementia at home…protecting her…advocating for her. Now I’m doing the same for my husband. And I love and care for my clients the same way. I might not be a so-called top producer…but I’m a winner. So are all my clients. God is grest.

Great read this morning John, the coach I’ll never forget is Chris Jensen, my Karate instructor. it was 1977 and I was 9 years old. My mom was tired of me coming home beat up and scared from school. I got picked on a lot! She brought me to Chris’s Tae Kwon Do studio and I watched a full class. I remember thinking “NO WAY!” Chris greeted me after class and I told him I wasn’t interested. He said “hey no problem kid, it’s not for everyone” and stretched out his hand to hake mine goodbye (I thought). As soon as I shook his hand he pulled me in to his six pack stomach and head locked me and growled ” Now how come you don’t want to take my clas?!?” I wa sin shock. “Don’t you want to learn how to break free of thing like this? I was practically crying and said “yeah”. He went on to say as he released me, ” I don’t mean the head lock kid, I can teach you that in 5 minutes.” He looked me dead in the eye and pointed his finger at me and almost whispered ” I mean break free of the fear that has your mind in a head lock. Gimme 3 months kid, if you want to quit, quit! But give me 3 honest months and let me show you what Tae Kwon Do will do for your mind.”

In 1982, both of us welling up with tears of joy, Chris Jensen tied my black belt around me after just passing the brutal test. Not just of that night, but of the last 5+ years. He never quit on me and 33 years later he still makes an impression on me.

Note:
I saw you speak at Buffini & Company’s Master Mind 2014, you were great! Very memorable presentation; I left, not just inspired, but thinking.

John,
Thank you for the continuous reminder of why we are all here on this Earth. My new daily affirmation is: Kindness is what binds us. You are truly living your life’s mission. :0)
Kathy

I don’t even remember the name of my softball coach. He put me out in left field–where the poor players go–and there I stayed. It was expected that “if” a ball came my way, I’d probably miss or drop it. I do not have visible scars, but I am doing by best to rise above the scars of indifference to inspire others, so they no longer see themselves as poor players stuck in left field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.