Win or Learn … or Win and Learn?

“I never learned anything from any game I won” – Bobby Jones

The Basshams, the Mental Management folks, use a phrase over and over which is: “We either win or learn, there is no ‘lose.’” Actually I think we can win and learn, too. The saying is part of their efforts to help people to create a learning mindset. If we focus too much on losing and winning, we can fail to develop a mindset of doing what we need to do to put ourselves into a winning position.

But, with all due respect for Mr. Jones, a golf legend, we can easily win and learn. My partner is somewhat famous for dropping her one and only tab into a porta-potty while leading the tournament she was contesting. Shooting a makeshift tab she managed to end up winning, just barely, and learned a valuable lesson regarding carrying a spare tab. I use this example because it is funny as all get out, not because it is the most instructive.

A more profound principle/example is that you learn how to win by winning. Think about that. Learning how to deal with competition pressure can only be learned when they are feeling it. Feeling that one has learned something about dealing with the pressure to win only happens when they win having dealt with it.

You can help your charges develop a learning mindset in many ways. One is by defining what winning means (I favor “meeting or exceeding your goals”) and another is to have a mechanism to focus on what was learned from an experience.

I have a standard “post-competition” process I ask my athletes to follow. After any event and within 24 hours of the end of that event I ask my students to make two lists of at least three items each. These they write in their archery notebook. The first thing is a list of what they learned. Over time this can be quite illuminating. For example, any time something shows up on these lists more than once may mean that thing wasn’t learned. Or maybe you didn’t help them find a way to implement what they learned. This is the role of the second list.

The second list is “what they will do differently next time.” These can be specific to this event or may apply to any event. This list informs practice because just by stating it doesn’t mean you can do it.

Young people especially don’t like homework, so you will have to pressure some of your students to produce the lists. You will also encounter students who put little to no thought into their lists. In some cases you will find you have mis-characterized some students as serious competitive archers and find out they are not because they do not want to do such tasks. Other times people are just intellectually lazy.

The students with “the spark” end up with lists of more than three items regularly, which is one way to identify them. (I always look favorably on students who come to lessons with written lists of questions. My very best student emailed me with such things and with things he hoped to accomplish at our next lesson ahead of time so I could be well-prepared to serve him!)

Another  helpful process is to look over the past 4-5 sets of lists when you are developing a practice plan for a major competition. When doing this I emphasize that they are in charge. I just ask questions like “This list item suggests you want to do XYZ, do you want to do that?” Remember the lists are theirs, not yours, so you should get some buy-in regarding those items.




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