A Jewish perspective on winning

It was a day of baseball that was both thrilling and frustrating. My son’s Winterball team played its best game this season, but the other team seemed to do better. So, when I opened my weekly newsletter from Aish.com, a story about the Jewish perspective on winning caught my attention.

In short, the story said that concept of “winner” or “champion” doesn’t exist in traditional Judaism. In fact, Judaism discourages the notion of people seeking superiority over others. (So much for the rumors about us controlling the banks through the Freemasons and the Trilateral Commisssion.) Instead, Judaism strives for success. But it is success through the effort, not simply the result. We judge ourselves by how hard we work and the improvement we make, not simply whether we win or lose.

This makes a lot of sense, even in sports. We can’t control the outcome of a game. Lots of things can happen to affect the outcome: a bad call, a lucky bounce (or an unlucky one, depending on your perspective), the weather, field conditions, a teammate coming down with the flu. If we judge our own performance simply on winning and losing, we are doomed to frustration. And winning doesn’t offer any satisfaction by itself either. I’ve seen kids quit baseball after playing on championship teams. These kids felt they weren’t learning anything. They felt their efforts weren’t appreciated. This is why we need to look at effort and progress as our primary measurements of success.

There are coaches who understand this. I heard one coach tell his team, “The only things you can control are your attitude and your effort…If we’re doing things the right way, the winning will take care of itself.” That team became very successful, not only in how the players progressed and how much they enjoyed themselves playing. They also did well in the won/loss column.

By focusing on effort instead of just winning games, coaches are more likely to produce successful teams. And even if the team doesn’t win a championship, players can still enjoy the satisfaction of pushing themselves and in seeing the growth in themselves as players and as people. These are players who will come back next year and play even harder. For youth sports in this economy, retaining players is a crucial measure of success.