A few weeks ago, I started a new concept—Themes of the Week—for all three mediums through which I come to you. The themes over the first three weeks revolved around failure and being stuck in a rut.

The focus this week shifts to the flipside of failure—Success—and specifically in this post, Team Success.

Nice! We finally get to move away from depressing talk about failure and start talking about success.

Not so fast, my friends.

In order to talk about one, you often have to talk about the other. If we don’t have failures, we never get to success. And while we would like to have success consistently, we know we are usually walking a razor’s edge on our road to success, where failure is only one step away on either side of that edge.

In my gift book for senior athletes called Senior Salute, there is a quote by Colin R. Davis, the former conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Davis said, “The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.”

He was so right.

What we do to try to achieve success will bring us many failures along the way. But whether we achieve success or failure, we were still traveling along the same path, the same road, the entire time. The only differences that determine whether we achieved success or failure are the many little outcomes along the way that lead to whatever main outcome occurred.

Scoreboards – One Measure of Success

For those of us in sports, we usually have some type of scoreboard in our competitive arena. Sometimes it is a HUGE scoreboard that can be easily seen by thousands of people. That scoreboard shows who is succeeding and who is failing. At the end of a contest, whoever has the best score has won the contest.

Scoreboards are good. They help us see how we are doing in our competition. They show us results based on our efforts and our commitments to achieve those results.

Scoreboards also help us see how we stack up against others. While I a firm believer in not focusing on comparative analysis nearly as much as on our own improvement measured against where we started, comparison does help us see how we are improving in relation to others. It helps us see where we are and where we need to get to in order to achieve certain types of success—namely, winning contests and championships of one type or another.

I am currently coaching 7th grade girls’ basketball. Last night we had our last practice, and tomorrow morning and next Monday afternoon we will play our final games of the season. I have had so much fun with my girls. I love getting into the gym each day with them to try to create a fun environment for them to enjoy the game I love so much, while at the same time helping them improve at their skills.

However, my girls are not good basketball players… yet. Their skill levels are not where they need to be to have the scoreboard success that we would like to have. Because of that, we have lost every game we have played so far.

But I try to help my girls understand that the scoreboard up on the wall is only ONE measure of success. It is not the be-all and end-all of determining whether or not they, individually, and we, as a team, have had success.

Yes, the scoreboard does show a level of success in comparison to other girls’ teams against whom we play. And, yes, we need to consider it as we consider how successful we are as a team and, to some degree, how successful they are individually.

However, I want them to view success and failure as much more than a scoreboard on a wall. I tell them to focus on where we started and where we finished, not just at the end of the season, but each day we are together. I want them to focus on getting a little better every day.

The only way the scoreboard will ever work out in our favor is if one of two things happens: we play an even less skilled, less talented team than us or we get a lot better. We don’t have control over the first one of those options; however, we have total control over the second one.

When I say “we” in the previous sentence, though, while I mean to include myself in it, the biggest part of the “we” is the girls themselves.

Yes, I am a big part of the control I mention. I need to design a practice that works on their skills and their abilities to become a team. I need to create an environment that is a safe place for them to have fun, grow, improve, and develop to become better players while learning to love this game. Then, I need to go out and do everything I can to ensure those things are happening.

But, ultimately, it is up to them to do what they need to do to become the players they need to become if they want to see the scoreboard work out in their favor. They need to put in a lot of time and effort in the off-season and then again next season to become the best they can become. And then they need to do it again each of the following years that they decide to play basketball. That is the only way they will ever start to see the scoreboard ending up in their favor at the end of a game.

Results Show Your Commitments

For years, I have touted the importance of NOT focusing on the scoreboard as a measure of success and focusing on the John Wooden concept of doing your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. I believe wholeheartedly in that idea.

However, I realize now that by dismissing the scoreboard as much as I have, I have missed a key component of success, especially in sports.

While what is most important is becoming the best we can be, it is still important to strive to achieve according to the scoreboard as a measure of success in whatever arena you are competing.

Isn’t that what grades are all about in school? Sure, knowledge and learning are what’s most important. But don’t students compete against millions of other students, trying to get good enough grades that will, at the very least, help them graduate, and for many others, help them get into good colleges?

What about sales figures in business? Aren’t people in companies striving to achieve better sales figures in order to turn a profit and help the company grow, thereby helping everyone who works in it make a better income and a better living from that income?

Then why would sports be any different?

As a coach, I need to make sure that, while I instill the idea in my players that what is most important is that every day they compete against a vision of the best player they can become, I also need to make sure they understand that the scoreboard helps determine how well they are achieving that vision.

Psychologist Dr. Benjamin Hardy says, “Commitment is a state of what is. You can know your commitment by the results you’re getting not by what you say you want.”

I love that!

Talk is cheap.

True success is all about our commitment to become what we say we want to become, not our words about what we say we want to become.

People who commit to an endeavor will see their own skills improve and develop in a way that helps them start to achieve personal success based on where they started compared to where they are now.

But the ones who are fully committed to that success will also start to see the results of their commitment on the various scoreboards that will be measuring their success on their journey.

No, I’m not saying that every time they compete they will win. That rarely happens in any arena. But I am saying that as their commitment to continuous improvement, growth, and development rises, their skill levels will rise and, thus, their scoreboard success will rise.

The key, though, in any team setting is that enough of the team members are committed in this fashion to see that scoreboard works out the way they want it to work out.

It’s not enough to have one or two team members fully committed to the team’s success.

A team needs a majority of its team members demonstrate that they are fully committed to the team’s success by being fully committed to their own individual improvement and growth to become their best and then using their growth in whatever ways the team needs from them.

That is when the magic of team success happens!


**If you are looking for a great gift to give to your senior athletes at your awards nights, Senior Salute is for you! Right now, it is on sale, along with my other gift book for graduating seniors, Inspiration for the Graduate. Go to slamdunksuccess.com to check them out.