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The Difference Between Losing and Being Beaten

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From Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Larry Gelwix coached the Highland High School rugby team to 418 wins with only ten losses and twenty national championships over thirty-six years. He describes his success this way: “We always win.” With a record like Highland’s he has the right to make the statement. But he is actually referring to something more than his winning record. When he says, “win,” he’s also referring to a single question, with its apt acronym, that guides what he expects from his players: “What’s important now?”

By keeping his players fully present in the moment and fully focused on what is most important— not on next week’s match, or tomorrow’s practice, or the next play, but now— Gelwix helps make winning almost effortless. But how?

First, the players apply the question constantly throughout the game. Instead of getting caught up rehashing the last play that went wrong, or spending their mental energy worrying about whether they are going to lose the game, neither of which is helpful or constructive, Larry encourages them to focus only on the play they are in right now.

Second, the question “What’s important now?” helps them stay focused on how they are playing. Larry believes a huge part of winning is determined by whether the players are focused on their own game or on their opponent’s game. If the players start thinking about the other team they lose focus. Consciously or not, they start wanting to play the way the other team is playing. They get distracted and divided. By focusing on their game in the here and now, they can all unite around a single strategy. This level of unity makes execution of their game plan relatively frictionless.

What really struck me about Larry was his approach to winning and losing. As he tells his players: “There is a difference between losing and being beaten. Being beaten means they are better than you. They are faster, stronger, and more talented.”

To Larry, losing means something else. It means you lost focus. It means you didn’t concentrate on what was essential. It is all based on a simple but powerful idea: to operate at your highest level of contribution requires that you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.