Deserving to win

Mark Lebedew wrote a post on his blog earlier this year about the concept of deserving to win from Brazillian supercoach Bernardinho’s book. That is, you can’t work towards winning, as results can sometimes be beyond your control. But you can work towards being worthy of winning. If you have put in the right kind of work, the right amount of work, have overcome setbacks, and have a better attitude, when a critical moment comes, you are entitled to have more belief than your opponent and prevail.

It was an idea that affected me a lot. The concept, as a colleague told me, wasn’t anything new, but i had never heard it put so succinctly. Having thought a lot about it recently, my take on it is likely to be very different from mark’s or bernardinho’s though. Sure, it’s useful to be in a situation when you’re 14-15 down in the 5th set of a big game and be able to say “well guys, we’ve worked hard and overcome more adversity to deserve to win more than the other team”, but i’m probably not going to be in that situation often. What was really interesting to me was the tangent that volleyball could be about more that just winning or losing.

As an amateur coach, I’ve developed an ambivalence towards winning and losing. After all,  i don’t get paid more if my teams win, and i don’t risk to lose my livelihood if my teams lose. Given the lack of incentives, I have to make it more than about winning or losing to make coaching interesting.

For me, volleyball is a spiritual exploration. Working towards deserving to win, is more interesting than winning itself. Experiencing that with a group of players whether they are a senior league team or a team of 12-year-old beginners is equally rewarding. Not every team will become champions. Not every individual will make the national team, the state team, their club’s league team, or even their school’s honours team – but the explorations of all their potentials is equally valid, and equally compelling.

As Huineng, the famed 6th patriarch of zen buddhism wrote in his sutra about how he came to the monastery as a “barbarian”:

I then went to pay homage to the Patriarch, and was asked where I came from and what I expected to get from him. I replied, “I am a commoner from Hsin Chou of Kwangtung. I have travelled far to pay you respect and I ask for nothing but Buddhahood.” “You are a native of Kwangtung, a barbarian? How can you expect to be a Buddha?” asked the Patriarch. I replied, “Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature.”

Conversely, you can win without having done the things to “deserve it”. And in these instances you really learn nothing and it’s all a bit hollow. Where losing really hurts is in that moment where you really wanted to win, but you realised that you didn’t deserve to. I saw it in a lot of the kids who played AVSC in Melbourne. Who didn’t put in the work and lucked their way past the first few games and fell over later in the week. There’s this moment that they know. Some realise that they have to change the way they go about things. For others it’s too fleeting and they go back to setting themselves up for the same pattern of disappointment.

Since reading the post, the incessant dialogue in my head has become “what must I do to be worthy of winning?” I answer back in my head with things like: “if i look at things as they are and without interference of my personal biases, then i will be worthy”… “If i accept my players for who they are in any given moment and not who i would prefer them to be, then i am worthy”… “if i take statistics….”, “if i’m open minded about ideas…”, “if i coach volleyball for myself but not make it about myself…” etc. It’s a puzzle everyday that isn’t clear, but the point is you try.

The greatest pleasure in amateur coaching is to work with a group of people (players, administrators etc) who make it all about being worthy of winning, rather than just winning in itself. To work towards perfecting an idealised form of volleyball that is greater than any individual in that group. It’s an abstraction, but a lot like the enjoyment of being part of a band and creating a sound.

I have teams and individuals I work with at the moment that are interested in learning about being worthy of winning. But i have a few that I’ve realised aren’t worthy, and more importantly, aren’t interested in working towards it. There was a time when they were. When there was the common ground of believing in an abstraction that unified them more than the differences that drove them apart. It was an attarctive thing to be a part of. But not so anymore, and it’s apparent it’s no longer “about the music” we create. and when you can’t inspire them to find some common ground anymore – when they no longer want to find some common ground, it’s time to move on.

It’d be limiting to say that the reasons i like to be involved in volleyball is the only valid one. maybe it’s perfectly valid to make it just about winning, or about doing something active (another post) etc. But so long as there are people interested in volleyball as a means to explore their potential, then that’s where i’ll be.

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2 Responses to “Deserving to win”

  1. The Basketball Gods « Huy's Volleyball Blog Says:

    […] Huy's Volleyball Blog Back again, but now more lo-fi than ever « Deserving to win […]

  2. markleb Says:

    Very cool post.

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