Winning Stoically


In recent years I have developed a real interest in Stoicism. Although I wouldn’t yet consider myself a Stoic, I have enjoyed learning some of the underlying principles that make up this philosophy of life. There have been many Stoics over the years but probably the most well known are Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor. I would recommend ‘Letters from a Stoic’ by Seneca or ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius. If any of these whet your appetite then Ryan Holiday has written two great books called ‘The Obstacle Is the Way’ and Ego Is The Enemy’ Both of these will give a modern feel to Stoicism. I will guarantee you that Stoicism is not what you think it is and can be translated into a modern philosophy of life.

Many of us don’t have a real philosophy for life as we jump from one issue to the next. We deal with what is in front of us. Many people think a good life is having a good job. This allows us to buy ever more stuff to impress people in our belief that this creates a meaningful life. But ask yourself how long the happiness lasts, that we create when buying the latest gadget before we crave the next shiny thing? This is a process of hedonic adaptation which I may well pick up on future blogs.

You are probably now thinking that he’s gone mad and what has this to do with grassroots football?  Well. if we could learn a few Stoic principles and put them into practice then we might actually move away from chasing the next shiny thing and build on what we already have. The Stoics chose ‘to want what they already have’ in order to make them fully appreciate what they had.

The Stoics broke everything into 3 areas:

1.Where you have total control

2 Where you have some but not total control

3.Where you have no control

There is no point bothering about areas where you have no control ie the weather; the pitch; the referee; your height; the position you are asked to play or what the opposition will do and how they choose to play.

The second point we should consider, as that forms the largest group so we should try and influence this group while understanding that there are many factors at play that will affect the outcome. Examples are how you prepare physically and tactically but the biggest example is the final score of the game. Consequently, the first point is the most important. Concentrate on things in which you have total control. Examples of this are attitude, commitment, effort, enjoyment, opinions. These are all factors which the player has direct and full control over. Whereas the result, other people’s opinion and our reputation are not up to us.

There is much less energy required to do things in which we have total control over so we should be doing these as much as possible. We have it in our power to stop moaning at the coach; to be well mannered; to work hard; to take time to help our team-mates. The choice is within ourselves.

Consequently, a player who is looking to develop needs to set internal rather than external goals. Therefore, the goal is not to ‘win’ the match or the league or the cup (This is external and you don’t have full control over this) but to play to your best of your ability in the game.

The Stoics knew that our internal goals affect our external performance, but they also knew that the goals we set for ourselves have a direct impact on our emotional state. So if we set the goal to win the match, this does not increase our chances of winning that particular match. On the other hand, if we set playing our best game as our goal then we don’t reduce our chances of winning the match but we do lessen our chances of being upset by the outcome. We must then change the story we are telling ourselves and remove the thought of winning and replace it with playing to the best of our ability. This will significantly reduce your emotional anguish in the future.

Therefore I want players to ‘win stoically’ by setting internal goals for themselves. I can honestly say that I have never asked a team to go out and win. I have asked them to go out and enjoy themselves; express themselves and give their all. The result is of little significance but can they come off the pitch thinking they have given their all and reflect against the internal goal they set for themselves before the match? That for me is ‘winning’

If you want to read more on the Stoics then as well as Ryan Holliday’s books then you should have a look at the good stuff from Tim Ferriss. Also John Wooden and his famous quote “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” probably tells me that as well as being my coaching hero, he was also a Stoic at heart.

Finally, to quote Robin Sharma “The world belongs to learners” so let’s teach the kids to ‘win stoically’.

Winning Stoically

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