There’s a really interesting quote from Nebraska coach John Cook in his book, Dream Like a Champion.

“As coaches gain experience, however, that pursuit of winning goes away. Your work becomes more about coaching: the journey of each unique team and seeing individual players develop. You begin to enjoy all of those things a lot more and they become more important than winning. Winning is still important, of course, but you stop making yourself miserable over it. I enjoy coaching more now than ever before and I am able to learn so much more about myself and my role as a coach because I am not so worried about proving myself every day.”

This is a very insightful quote. At least it strikes a cord with me personally. Somewhere along the line I stopped fixating so much on winning and losing. That isn’t really in my control, so why stress about it so much?

I think Cook’s last sentence, though, begs a question. Is winning the only way we can prove ourselves, especially early in our career?

I touched on this subject before in terms of who we must prove ourselves too. I didn’t, though, really get into how we do that.

Let’s face it, most of the time people – including ourselves – tend to think in terms of winning. This is why we have youth coaches specializing kids early rather than developing them as all-around players. I wrote about that in the post Coaching Youngsters Like College Players.

Yes, sometimes winning is how you prove yourself. Not always, though. I’d actually venture to say, not even most of the time (see this article). Yes, if you’re at Nebraska, as Cook is, people expect you to win. If you don’t, you’re out of a job. When you think about the vast majority of teams, however, you’ll realize having fun and getting better are really the main focus points. As a coach you prove yourself by accomplishing those objectives. At least that should be the case. The problem is people tend to forget that in the heat of battle.

Actually, this is how coaches get in trouble sometimes. I have a coaching friend whose professional club fired him because he was overly competitive. He was focused on winning as how he would prove himself when the club leadership had a different focus for the team. Just goes to show that you need to know what matters to those who count.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    4 replies to "On proving yourself and winning"


      I love this post greatly. I really couldn’t have said this better. I did post John Cook’s words on VCT because I believe more need to see these words than your membership.
      I’ve been about development and having fun for years now. This year I guess two families on my club team was about winning and didn’t get the message, despite saying it multiple times. I tell my athletes the only way I come down on you for failing at ACE. Attitude, Communication, and Effort are what is important. If ACE is being provided then winning and losing takes care of itself, IMO. Parents keep reiterating winning on the rides home and at home with two athletes and it cause the team to struggle more than necessary.
      I honestly do not believe I have to prove myself. Well in a direct way. I prove myself by treating all athletes fair, celebrate when the smallest things are accomplished, and communicate with the athletes on a personal level in volleyball and personally. Finally I laugh at the dumb thing me and my athletes do every day in the gym. I believe when one can laugh instead of criticize, one is proving one is human.
      Again thanks for this post. It is refreshing to see this as we coaches do from time to time stray away from being who we want really be.

      Koach Kelly…

      • John Forman

        Glad you like it Kelly.

    • Stephen McKeown

      Great post. ‘Talent ID and coaching purely for winning and at the expense of the holistic development of the player, programme or team is largely down to the misunderstanding of the coach on what their job is, and of course their insecurities. This is not helped by the expectations of other stakeholders such as the federations, clubs, other coaches, parents and even on occasions, the players

      • Kelly Daniels

        It might help to clarify at what level is the commentor is talking about. Professionally, I see winning as a priority. Amateur levels not so much, even at national level programs.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.