What is your definition of success?

posted on: February 3, 2015
author: Brian Lomax

Success and Failure Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

This past weekend, I spoke to a group of dressage instructors/trainers at an educational conference in CT, and my topic was “How to be a Positive Coach.” While I don’t have much “street cred” in the horse world, I do have a good bit of experience and knowledge on coaching styles in both sports and business. In this session, I knew I was preaching to the choir in terms of positive coaching, and so my goal was to get the trainers to think about how they could be more explicit in developing positive qualities in their programs and their students.

One of the fundamental questions that we considered as a group was “what is your definition of success?” Whenever I ask that question, I know the audience’s immediate thoughts go to winning, trophies, ribbons, medals, money, fame, etc. Many of us have been programmed to think that way. We believe that extrinsic rewards and status define success. Even though this is the immediate thought, it’s rare that someone will actually pipe up and say it, because deep down we know that it’s not correct. It feels a bit shallow. There has to be a more intrinsic definition, right?

Each person’s definition of success is a very personal choice. I suggest that you write your own definition and be as specific as possible to your situation and your sport. If you choose to define success based on winning and results, know that those things are not under your direct control. You won’t always win and you won’t always get the results you want. The odds are against us all that we’ll become the best in the world in our chosen sport. Does that mean we are all failures? In my mind, it doesn’t, but some of you may feel that way.

When a coach focuses primarily on winning and results, the impact on his or her athletes can be profound. These coaches view their athletes as a means to achieve their personal desires for winning. It’s not about developing the athlete as a person, but instead is all about the coach. In his book InSideOut Coaching, Joe Ehrmann refers to this type of coach as transactional. Transactional coaches won’t hesitate to put moral and ethical values aside in order to attain results, as winning at all costs is the attitude. That example teaches athletes to do the same and they often can end up making similar decisions outside of the sports realm. It’s hardly surprising that we see so much cheating and corruption in sports, business and government. That forcefully debunks the notion that sport builds character.

As you ponder your own definition of success, consider incorporating these three concepts: effort, striving for your potential, and self-satisfaction. Notice that all three of these concepts are under your control. When I ask students or groups to write their own definition of success, I don’t tell them about effort, potential, and self-satisfaction, but they almost always incorporate all 3 of them in their definition. The difficulty for many of us comes in adhering to this idealistic version of success in the face of a society obsessed with results. As a positive coach, it’s my job to reinforce this definition with my students and to model it on a daily basis.

Once you’ve written your definition of success, I suggest you Google John Wooden’s definition of the same and compare it to yours. Wooden was famous for never talking to his team about winning yet his teams seemed to be quite adept at it (10 NCAA Men’s Basketball championships). He’s a great example of how you do not have to be a “win at all costs” type of coach in order to win. How did your definition compare to his?

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About the Author

Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.

Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/

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