To Win or Not to Win: THAT is NOT the Question

by Dr. James Thrasher
Winning has commandeered the high calling of sports and coaching.

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To Win or Not to Win: THAT is NOT the Question
The Center For Vision & Values
The Center For Vision & Values

Grove City, PA –-( I walked into a Nike store with my kids and noticed the youth T-shirt table. I was shocked by what I saw: “Crushing You Will Be A Pleasure.” “Thank You for Being Such a Gracious Loser.” “I Promise to Help You Up After I Knock You Down.” And “Good Game: Maybe Next Time You Will Actually Score.”

Do you find a consistent message amongst these T-shirts from one of the biggest sports retailers in the world? The slogans on the shirts give a sense of our nation’s obsession with winning, even for children in size youth-small T-shirts.

To win is an honorable and desirable goal. But winning at any price and at the expense of the student athlete is unacceptable. Striving to win, with the well-being of the individual athlete as the priority, defines the role of a coach.

Today, we have allowed the idol of winning to overtake the calling of coaching. I have had the privilege of being a student athlete, a coach on the high school and collegiate levels, a basketball official, a professor who teaches an Ethics in Sports course, and a father to four kids who all are talented, hard-working athletes. Based upon personal experience and exposure to the coaching profession, I have witnessed some unfortunate philosophies and approaches. The calling of being a coach, for some, has devolved into a self-centered, and winning-at-all-costs profession. The question must be asked: Is athletics about the coach and winning or is it about the privilege of investing in and building up young men and women, making a positive difference in their lives?

Being a coach provides a privileged opportunity to be the most important and influential person in the athlete’s life, other than his or her parents. Coaches have the ability to be a role model, building self-esteem and character in their players and teaching them to believe that the process is more important than the win-loss record. Winning has become so overwhelmingly enveloping that it has stolen the primary roles of the coach: to invest in the individual players, to love those young men or women based on who they are rather than how many points they score, and to positively influence them for life. Winning cannot and should not be more important than the desire to educate, protect, and influence each life. Coaches also should teach and display a respect for the rules, officials and opponents.

Billy Graham has stated that “a coach will impact more lives in a year than most will affect in a lifetime.” The true and lofty calling of a coach cannot be over-estimated.  A varsity basketball coach whom I highly respect always says that “a good coach will make you a better player, but a great coach will make you a better person.”

In today’s society, the coach must re-take the fundamental goal of coaching out of the win/loss column and put it back where it belongs: to be the architect and definer of an athlete’s sports experience.


— Dr. James Thrasher is the director of Grove City College’s career services office and the coordinator of the Center for Vision & Values working group on calling.

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I have been a participant and a coach in both high school and college athletics, as well as a participant in a war, and I can assure you that sports should never be confused with war, yet the analogy is made all the time, even at the middle school level (perhaps even earlier, depending on the coach). I suspect that part of the problem is the huge ratio of spectators to participants in most modern sports. Participants have experiences in the game/contest that force them to deal with a variety of emotional reactions, that enable them to come to know… Read more »

Steven Tobacco

Although I like athletic activity, I have never been a sports “fan”. I have never been able to put it into words as clearly as this fellow has, but he is right on the money. Sport and war are different, and that difference should be noted, not blurred. I think that multi-million dollar spectator sport industries are more a symbol of Roman-style decadence then of anything else.


The philosophy to strive to win is realistic for life. However, we, as a society, instill this into our children at too young of an age. Stadiums are filled with screaming fans that want results. They really don’t care what kind of people the players are. We give “scholarships”for how high people can jump or how fast they can run a 40. Other countries give scholarships for abilities to think and innovate. We pay millions of dollars for hitting home runs, passing footballs, and throwing baseballs 95mph. Example: If Alex Rodriguez bats 500 times this year, he will receive $50,000… Read more »