the beauty of winning ugly

 

There's usually a negative connotation that comes with the idea of "winning ugly." Not surprisingly, no one enjoys going out, doing their best, and having their work labeled that way. Most of the time “winning ugly” implies that, for whatever reason, things for an athlete or team just didn't click. They struggled to score, didn't execute well, or had a hard time stopping their opponent. They survived...but barely. When the game gets ugly, it can be hard to watch. And even though we wouldn't choose winning ugly over making it all look good, I do want you to see - as it relates to raising a champion athlete and person - that winning ugly can actually be a beautiful thing.

That's because there's a level of resilience and fortitude required for an athlete to win ugly. The champion athlete hasn’t prepared to play poorly today, but he has prepared to handle playing poorly today, if that’s what comes. He understands, probably because his champion parent has helped him understand it, that challenge and adversity are a part of every success story, including his own. And just because today’s isn’t his day doesn’t mean he can’t have success in spite of it.  

The weak-minded athlete, on the other hand, is typically incapable of winning ugly. That’s because as soon as things get ugly, the weak-minded athlete crumbles to pieces. He hasn't included overcoming challenge or adversity as a part of his story, so he's often unprepared to rise up, meet it, and overcome it when it does arrive. When things go bad, the tough-minded athlete digs deep, musters up the toughness it takes to persevere in spite of the struggle, and succeeds anyways. The weak-minded athlete is easily convinced that it's just not his day. If he's digging deep, it's probably so he can crawl into a hole, curl up and hide.

So how do you help your child develop what it takes to win ugly? First, you both need to see clearly the role that challenge or adversity will play in his experience as an athlete. If all your kid imagines is effortless success – if he hasn’t included overcoming adversity as a part of his story – then it's likely he'll be less equipped to meet the challenges he'll inevitably face. Prepare him with the understanding that hardship will be a part of his experience, and that just because some days success is hard to find doesn’t mean it can’t be found. In fact, with the right perspective, finding success on the hard days can be really fun, especially when you realize that not everyone’s capable of doing it.

Just because some days success is hard to find doesn’t mean it can’t be found. In fact, with the right perspective, finding success on the hard days can be really fun, especially when you realize that not everyone’s capable of doing it.

Secondly, as he experiences those moments of adversity, rises up to meet those challenges, and develops that toughness, make sure you're recognizing his resilience and cultivating its growth. The ugly performances are great opportunities to evaluate your child's current level of toughness. Is he capable of fighting for and finding success even on the days when it isn’t pretty? He may not be at first. And even as he improves, it’ll probably be easy for him to focus on what went wrong.  

But it’s critical for you to be able to recognize, highlight, and develop in him the resilience that lives in the heart and mind of a champion. Remember, what you choose to emphasize is what your child will learn to value. It’s human nature, even for us as parents, to dwell on what was ugly. And don’t get me wrong – why he couldn’t score, or why he didn’t execute well, or why he had a hard time stopping his opponent may be worth your attention. But bad performances happen for even the best players on earth. They’re a part of everyone’s story, remember? So instead of worrying too much about the outcome, make sure you’re seeing clearly the more important opportunity this struggle can present – to equip him a little more today for bigger successes tomorrow. 

Finally, when it comes to developing the resilience and fortitude of a champion in your child, it’s worth stopping to consider the powerful example you’ll set for him in your own life. You can talk all day about what it takes to win ugly, but what you live out for your child to see will probably speak louder than any of your words. So stop and evaluate yourself for a minute. Do you have what it takes to win ugly? I’m sure you haven’t prepared for things to go poorly today, but are you prepared to handle it if they do? At work, in your marriage, or as a parent, will you show your child today what it looks like to dig deep, muster up the toughness it takes to persevere in spite of the struggle, and be a champion anyways? If so, it’s more likely that tough, resilient, strong-minded apple you’re raising won’t fall too far from the tree. 

I hope the next time your child steps onto the playing field, he plays the game of his life. I hope people walk out of the bleachers in awe of his performance. I hope it’s a work of art. But more importantly, I hope you’ll continue to prepare your child and yourself for the reality of his experience in both sports and life: that most days it’s not awe-inspiring. More often than we’d like to admit, our performances don’t turn out like a work of art. For the champion, in sports and in life though, success is still out there, even on the days when it isn’t pretty. In fact, some days winning ugly can be a beautiful thing. 

-Travis

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