The Paradox of Winning & Losing

It’s definitely counter-intuitive that your probability of winning (in sports and in life) actually increases by focusing less on the win, but it’s true…

“We’re not going to talk about what we’re going to accomplish, we’re going to talk about how we’re going to do it.” Nick Saban, American Football Coach

Let me explain with a recent study that Mr. Tan Mian Ou (Raffles Institution’s Rugby Master) and I presented at the Asia Pacific Physical Education Conference (APPEC). We shared with teachers and coaches about how the 2017 Raffles Institution (RI) ‘B’ Division Rugby team managed to find success by NOT focusing on winning.


news article

The Background Story…

I was engaged by RI in October 2016 (about 5 months before the start of the season) to improve the 2017 ‘B’ Division Rugby team’s confidence in order to qualify for the finals of the National Schools Championship. The last time RI made it to the finals was in 2012, and in 2014, the team finished 6th – the lowest that the team has finished.

Since this was the first time that a sports team within RI has undergone a mental skills coaching program over a protracted period of time (from October 2016 to May 2017), the PE Department decided to conducted a study alongside the program to measure its effectiveness.

Besides making it to the finals of the 2017 National Schools Rugby Competition, pre and post measurements related to confidence and the ability to cope with setbacks showed significant improvements as well. In fact, during the semi-finals against Saint Andrews (whom they lost 7- 42 to during the first round), RI came from behind twice to win the game (see article).

Asia Pacific Physical Education Conference (APPEC) 2017

These two short videos are part of the presentation during the conference, and essentially explains the representation below, i.e., how the pedagogy (that focuses on the process and learning rather than on winning) behind the program guides the mental skills application, team development and coaching development to improve the confidence of the team.  

Confidence Presentation_21092017

The first video zooms in on the pedagogy and the key mental skill practiced by the boys, while the second one relates to the Team Development and Coaching Development.


In Closing…

Among the other variables (besides the mental skills program) that could have contributed to the team’s success, I feel that the coaches made the most significant difference!

Not only were the coaches at RI experienced tacticians and effective trainers, they were open to adopting a more process focused approach to coaching (which can be often counter-intuitive!). Besides, all the mental skills training would be of little help if the team’s basic skills and fitness were not amply developed!

“It’s a Cop Out to Not Focus on Winning. Why Else Compete?” 

p.s. If you are keen to adopt a more process focused approach to coaching, you might want to first think about how you are going to refute the statement above. I can guarantee that you are going to be challenged by this statement (or a variation of it) sooner rather than later!

Coach Hansen



One thought on “The Paradox of Winning & Losing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s