The Invention of Winning

Further on the theme of winning v “deserving to win”, the buddhist in me likes to think that winning is a human invention and far less meaningful than the spiritual journey of becoming “deserving to win”. We put so much weight on what a “winner” and “loser” looks like but we neglect to notice that how we determine the difference is usually cosmetic.

Recently, Rick Reilly wrote an article about the Boise State University Broncos, a college football team, in the Football Bowl Subdivision, who despite having a high performing team, will not have much of a chance to win the “national championship” over teams they could actually beat. The odd thing about all this, is in the Football Bowl Subdivision of NCAA division 1 football, the National Championship is decided by a series of polls run by third party organisations! teams don’t actually play each other! It’s basically a bunch of guys playing fantasy football! Can’t we take that kind of “champion” seriously?

Denis Pagan writes on his website about winning a premiership: “The best team of the year doesn’t win the grand final. The best team on the day does.” For AFL fans, the idea of being champions is ubiquitous with winning the big game on the last saturday in September at the MCG. But that notion only came after years of faffing around. Originally, the VFL used a round robin system for finals to determine a “Premier”. Sadly, Ross Lyon and St Kilda would be considered “losers” while Collingwood and Geelong would be regarded as “winners”. What would the premiership recods look like if it was the team that won the most games over the season? Does a “grand final” have more to do with determing who is “best”, or more with creating a giant spectacle that promotes the game?

Most team sports in Europe have a League (home and away) and a Cup (knockout). By process of induction, the winner of a Cup is the best because they beat the teams that beat the teams that beat the teams… The “premiership” for winning the league competition is usually more prestigious because it requires more consistency. But the home and away league system was only really devised so that teams could make money from a guaranteed 38 matches a year instead of the speculation of getting knocked out early in the cup.

The NBA probably has a best-of-7 championship series instead of a single play-off so they can sell more games to TV.

The opposite logic seems true too, with the Italian League in volleyball changing from a play-off series to a winner-takes-all playoff to create one big event (like the superbowl).

Deserving to win is a function of hard work. Winning is a function of marketing.


2 Responses to “The Invention of Winning”

  1. Alexis Says:

    One of the interesting things about Pagan’s thoughts is that he learned the hard way. I’ve heard that when North Melbourne were at their peak they set REALLY high goals. To win the preseason, to be #1 at the end of the minor round, and to win the Grand Final. They wanted to win everything. But in 1998 they lost the Grand Final (well, they actually only lost 2 quarters of the Grand Final), though they achieved their other two goals, and will always be perceived as ‘underachievers’.

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      It really goes back to what Steve Tutton was talking about at the Level II course about Success v Outcomes, Winning v Deserving to win, Performance v Results. Did Pagan get the Outcome/Result/Win? no. Were they successful/perform/deserving? yes. History isn’t so kind nor multidimensional.

      Maybe Pagan was beaten by a coach who made his players really believe and a physiologist who trained up a team to be the fittest in september?

      Ross Lyon is very successful, but didnt get the outcomes. We’ll talk about how great Malthouse and Thompson are, but the success Lyon had won’t get the justice it deserves.

      In tournaments where there are more than 12 teams, i’d like to think that if you make the semi’s you’re “successful”. what happens after that is in a realm that you don’t have absolute control over.

      In my work, one of the biggest inventions of winning is the oscars. It was conceived by the “academy” – a bunch of filmmakers, actors etc to create an event that raised public awareness of cinema when audiences started dropping. To be nominated recognises success. Whoever wins is a bit academic (although like in sport we make a big deal over who wins and doesn’t).

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