I remember being confused as a little leaguer when my coaches would put the breaks on us when playing with a big lead. If the ball gets to the backstop, every bone in my body says to advance to the next base. I’ve been taught to be aggressive and take whatever my opponent gives me. Luckily, that’s why adults tend to call the shots and not little kids. I didn’t understand the importance of respecting the game and your opponents. Winning is the goal going in every game, but embarrassing your opponents never should be.

As I grew older, I recall watching USC, Bama, and Oregon winning games 77-3 on Saturdays. I would scratch my head wondering why no one ever “called off the dogs” or at least eased their foot off the gas. I tended to root against those programs, thinking they were “bush league” and that they took joy in embarrassing the have-nots in college football.

Now that I’m a coach, my competitive experience has come full circle and my perspective sits somewhere in the middle. Having been on the losing end of slaughter rule games as a player and a coach, I certainly know it’s a feeling I dread and will never grow accustomed to. A true competitor should never get used to losing. It should always hurt; it should never sit well immediately after the clock runs out. However, in some cases, one team should beat another team in blowout fashion. Hopefully, league and tournament directors create competitive balance and avoid massive mismatches as much as possible. But there is something to be said for playing to a certain standard.

I’ve coached teams that played above and below their capabilities before. The best teams set standards and expectations for everything they do. They practice as hard as they play games. Their warm up routine is always crisp and with a purpose. Elite teams don’t make excuses or play up or down to their competition. Complacency often rears its ugly head with talented teams more than average teams. The best of the best fight the urge to take a play off. Champions don’t search for ways to justify going through the motions during a training session. The tricky thing about standards in sports is that a team’s benchmark is based off the group of individuals competing at the very best of their ability. Only each individual member of the team knows if they gave every ounce of focus and energy in their body. “You, and you alone, are the person who should take the measure of your own success…I do not try to be better than anyone else. I only try to be better than myself.” Dan Jansen

Now I understand why Nick Saban will be jogging to the locker room at halftime with a 35-0 lead, looking like he’s ready to rip his team to shreds. He’s worked hard to instill a certain culture and set expectations that have nothing to do with their opponent that week. “Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people,” Nido Qubein. Once again, a team with big goals can only achieve them if they are filled with motivated individuals that set their own standards to live by.

Setting standards goes well beyond sports. A successful person, in any walk of life, expects to perform to the best of their capabilities. If you are a straight A student, but can pass the class with a C on the final, why would you ever settle for that? Winners never accept “good enough”. Besides that, performing below your academic capabilities is disrespectful to those that struggle with school and work hard for their C. Everyone was not born with the same intellectual or athletic abilities. But everyone was born with the chance to work hard to become the best you can be.

An easy step to creating elite habits and standards is to surround yourself with other tenacious competitors with a strong work ethic. “Competitive toughness is an acquired skill and not an inherited gift,” Chris Evert. Train with someone you are unsure you can outwork, not someone you know you can roll out of bed and dominate. There is a reason why the younger brother often tends to grow into the tougher competitor. After a lifetime of being pushed by big bro, the younger sibling confidently welcomes a challenge. This is not to imply that you shouldn’t hang out with inferior athletes. One’s natural abilities have nothing to do with one’s competitive drive. Some of the sports world’s biggest performers have battled through physical limitations in stature or ability (see Russell Wilson and Dustin Pedroia).

Everyone has heard that competition breeds excellence. I learned first hand spending 4 years in an ACC locker room. Each team was comprised of 30-35 of the nation’s elite from all corners of the country. The one common denominator between us: we all were competitive maniacs. I hated to lose a single sprint in conditioning. I wanted to be the best at every drill or competition in practice. If you adopt this mindset, the games take care of themselves. A serious athlete spends much more time training and practicing than playing in actual games. The time before and after the game is where the standards are determined and the competitive drive is developed. “If you chase perfection, you often catch excellence.” William Fowble

Life tends to reward hard work. For the most part, what you get in life is merit based. If you are not happy with your situation, adjust the standards you live by. Set the bar higher. Be relentless in your pursuit to meet your own expectations. “Good enough never is. Set your standards so high that even the flaws are considered excellent.” – Debbi Fields

-Coach Healey