November 2015: To My Sons: “Play to Win”

“Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds, that on other days, on other fields, will bear the fruits of victory” – General Douglas MacArthur


Like General MacArthur I believe sports play a critical role in preparing us not just for fun and games but for life overall.




A couple of months ago NFL badboy James Harrison made the news for throwing his sons’ “participation trophies” in the trash:

Steelers’ James Harrison strips kids of non-winning participation trophies


I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues


Two of my three sons who are 5, 3 and 2 and have already started organized sports. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitudes as well as parenting and coaching trends have placed undue pressure and burden on parents who want their children to learn to compete and win. I know we have to get past the day of the crazed Dad screaming on the sidelines or assaulting the coach. But in my humble opinion the anvil has swung too far…too much emphasis on the fun and too little on the competition and teamwork. Sports play a critical and ideal role in preparing boys, girls and young adults for life. We are doing them a grave disservice with the “everyone gets a trophy, everyone is a winner” culture we are raising them in. I believe we need to teach them to fight to win and lose with grace, because in life, there are winners and losers. I also firmly believe that is not mutually exclusive of having fun.


I am extremely competitive. My Dad, and hence I, can turn anything into a game. We used to try and guess the exact time we would get home from a road trip – the winner often decided by minutes or even seconds if it was a trip we take often. I am one of nine children and while he didn’t do this until we were adults, my Dad only put one Father’s Day card on the mantle – the WINNER. The others sat in a pile by the couch. I love winning, everyone does. But I HATE losing even more and maybe that is all the difference. At times I can cross the line and become dysfunctionally competitive and it has been harmful to a few relationships I have had. So, maybe I am writing this as part therapy and part guide for myself so that I pass on my three boys only the productive and useful parts of my competitive nature and not the unhealthy ones.


They are still too young to understand completely, but here we go…


Dear Robert, Thomas, and James,


Play to win. Have some fun along the way – but play to win. That is the point of the game.


Life is competition. It is human nature. Playing games and competing in sports with all your might will better prepare you for your future where every single day is a competition.


  • Boeing and Airbus don’t both get the contract for 50 planes.
  • You don’t rent a car from Avis AND Hertz on the same trip.
  • We don’t have two 2 Super Bowl Champions.
  • Two women don’t get the promotion. Only one does.
  • There aren’t two High School Valedictorians. There is one.
  • There are only so many slots for a given college class. Some applicants will get in, others will not. Plain and simple. Only 9.5% get into West Point.
  • Two candidates don’t win the election – only one does.


The world itself is filled with limited resources, look at the wars fought over oil, rich land, and others scarcities. There are winners and losers in life. You will win some and lose some. Learn to not only accept this fact, but embrace it and enjoy the chase for victory.


Practice. I have been on a lot of teams for many different sports from grammar school to college. Soccer, baseball, basketball, track, boxing. I’ve even been blessed to be a part of some championship teams along the way. Not once was I the best on the team or even one of the star players. But I continued to practice and practice for hours and hours to get better. So that when my chance to contribute and help the team came – I was prepared. I was originally cut from the St Anthony’s JV basketball team and then let on last minute when the coach found an extra uniform. I spent the year as a scrub and warmed the bench. The summer between 5th and 6th grade I played basketball for almost 4 or 5 hours a day. 90% of that time by myself in the backyard doing lay up after lay-up and free throw after free throw while drinking Tang and Gatorade by the gallon. I didn’t become a starter, but did climb the ranks to 6th man. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell discuss “The Law of Ten Thousand Hours.” It takes dedication, sacrifice and hours and hours of practice to refine a skill and become an expert. Create challenges and contests for yourself – ten lay ups in a row or five free throws in a row. Never leave the court without making your last shot or kicking that last goal. By practicing you will get better, refining your skills little by little. It may get boring, repetitious and tedious. You may not see the tiny incremental improvements or receive the positive feedback to motivate you. Don’t worry – stick with it. Have grit. It will also prepare you for those times later in your in life you need to study and practice to become an expert and achieve success.


“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice.” – Ray Bradbury


“I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.” – Michael Jordan


Be a good teammate. Maybe you are a supporting player, maybe you are the star, but a good teammate helps others, encourages others, and always, always puts the team first. Celebrate your teammates’ performance. Celebrate the team’s performance. Be humble about your own contributions. If you see anyone blaming others – stop them and stand up for your buddy whether he or she is in the room or not. It is never ever the efforts of a single person that determines the win or the loss.


Give your all. You may not be the strongest, most talented, or gifted athlete on the field or court – Lord knows I was not. But one thing completely in your control is that you can always be the one that gave the most and tried the hardest.


“Guys who might not be superstars but because of their hustle, because of the little things they do, these are the guys who can really mean the difference between winning and losing.” – Dwyane Wade


In sports and in life anything worth doing is worth doing right. Play with passion and enthusiasm. Be the person the coach points to as an example for others on effort and hustle, day in and day out. When Joe Madden took over the Chicago Cubs who haven’t won a World Series in over 100 years he started the year with a theme “Respect 90” which means literally run hard to first base, which is 90 feet from home plate, but summed up really means ‘trying’.


Maddon said when he was hired this winter, something about “respect 90.” As in feet. As in the distance from home plate to first base. As in, you know, trying.


For a clubhouse of men who have been told for too long how terrible they are, to the men who today are being told they are not the problem but the solution, “respect 90” is a beautiful, precise and spirited representation of what all that talent can become. It is literal: “Run hard to first base.” And it is out there: “Be on time. Do the work. Live reasonably. Care.” So, yeah, “Try.” For three or four seconds three or four times a night, be the damn truck driver.


“It’s honored on different levels by different people,” Maddon said Thursday. “Derek Jeter, to me, respected 90 feet every time he played the game of baseball. He’s the guy that made it even more obvious to me. If you can get a baseball player to run hard to first base and he respects that 90 feet, then that will permeate the rest of his game in a positive way. I think it’s that simple, i.e., why Andrew McCutchen (Pirates All-Star best player) became my favorite player a couple years ago. We’re playing in Port Charlotte [spring training game] at 10 o’clock at night. In the ninth inning with two outs, he hits a routine ground ball to shortstop. And beats it out. What does that say to the rest of the Pirates organization?”


Howard Cossell said “The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.”


Never quit. Play hard and give your all until the buzzer sounds. Fight until the bitter end.

Here are 10 examples of comebacks no one thought possible:


  1. Kentucky, 1994. The Wildcats rallied from 31 down with 15:30 left to win at LSU.
  2. Indianapolis Colts, 2003. The Colts scored 21 points in the final five minutes of this Monday Night Football spectacular.
  3. Boston Red Sox, 2004. The Red Sox overcame 3-0 series deficit to beat Yankees in the ALCS enroute to the World Series.
  4. Duke, 2001. Duke trailed Maryland by 22 in the first half of 2001 Final Four before mounting a 95-84 comeback victory. They later went on to win the overall NCAA Championship.
  5. Buffalo Bills, 1993. “The Comeback.” Buffalo beat Houston in the biggest NFL comeback in history. Falling behind 35-3 in second half, Bills quarterback Frank Reich threw four touchdowns to lead the Bills back to a 41-38 win.
  6. Brigham Young, 1980. Jim McMahon and BYU scored 21 points in the final three minutes of the Cougars’ rumble with Southern Methodist in the 1980 Holiday Bowl to win 46-45.
  7. Indiana Pacers, 1995. Reggie Miller scored eight points in final 18.7 second to beat the Knicks in Game 1 of Eastern Conference semifinals.
  8. Philadelphia Flyers, 2010. The Flyers stormed back from 3-0 series deficit against the Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals.
  9. University of Southern California, 1974. USC scored 55 unanswered points after being down 24-0 to the Fighting Irish. Miraculous only begins to describe the game.
  10. U.S. men’s national team, 2010. Landon Donovan scored with mere moments left in the U.S.’s World Cup group stage game against Algeria. Tied 0-0, the Americans needed a win to advance.


“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.” – Ross Perot


Have fun. If you practice, play to win, give it your all, play by the rules, work with your teammates, and never quit – you will have fun. Competition is fun. Playing games with friends is fun. Oh, by the way – while winning is infinitely more fun than losing – be prepared for both. Be humble in victory and graceful and introspective when you suffer defeat.


“If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?” – Vince Lombardi


No matter what anyone tells you, don’t ever think for one second if you are playing an organized game with scoring involved that the only point is “just to have fun”. Play to win boys, play to WIN!!


- Tom Deierlein


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