He had just lost to his son’s football team.  We thought he’d be upset and not want to have the Monday morning interview.  In losing Saturday night to Tommy Bowden’s Clemson Univ. Tigers, Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles lost both their #1 National ranking and their hopes for an undefeated season. But Bobby had committed to the interview so he followed through with his commitment.

The conversation opened with a discussion about winning and losing, for you see at the time Bowden was the winningest Division I college football coach in history. The statement was put to him: “Coach, you must love to win.”  He thought for a moment and replied “No.  It isn’t so much that I like to win.  But I hate to lose.”  When pressed for an explanation, he said,  “When we win, it is the players who win. They score the points. They make the tackles. From the sideline, I can’t gain a single yard.  As coaches, we make the plans, but it is the players who have to execute for us to win.  But when we lose, it means I didn’t have them prepared and that is on me–the coach.”

We often think that the winningest coaches and athletes place an uncompromising focus on winning.  It is also a common myth that champions believe in ‘winning at all costs’.  But the best in the business don’t appear to share this perspective.

As current Univ. of Memphis and former National Championship basketball coach, Tubby Smith, explained to me ‘you can’t control winning. You can’t control who you play or how well they will play.  So you have to focus on what you can control: passing, shooting, defense.  If you get the basics right, the winning will come.  But you can’t make winning your goal because you can’t control that.  Winning isn’t something you do; it is something that comes when you do enough of things under your control right.”

Most recently, the currently #1 ranked Alabama and 5 time National Championship football coach Nick Saban made this statement during a press conference: “So I’d really rather not have any more questions about ‘Is it OK to lose this game?’ It’s never OK to lose a game” (Seattle Times, November 28, 2016).

So what are the take-home lessons here? First, losing stinks, so let’s do everything possible to prevent it from happening.  Second, to prevent losing don’t focus winning, but rather thoroughly prepare the things under your control that will keep you from losing.  Third, when things don’t go as planned and losing happens, look first to yourself and ask yourself ‘what did I miss?’, ‘what could I have done better or more thoroughly?’ and in those answers, you will discover the path to victory.