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How important is winning?

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THE firing of coaches has been an issue in Malaysian football. Being coaches of “elite teams” does not make them look outstanding among other coaches. Even big names in our local football history are not spared.

Alex Ferguson was appointed manager at Old Trafford on Nov 6, 1986, and his first trophy for Manchester United was the FA Cup final 1989-1990 season against Crystal Palace, and his first league title as coach-manager in England came in the 1992-1993 season. It took him three years for silverware and two more years for celebration in the major league. That’s an opener for one of the most celebrated sports personalities in football history.

The sacking, the resting or forced resignation of Malaysian football coaches and many more sports coaches due to poor performance of the players and the team sure are making headlines. People have mixed opinions on it. Some question whether the coaches are “victims” of sports management bodies when the “performance index”
is not met.

Are we now forgetting or are we so eager to be winners in everything? Are we putting so much importance on winning and blatantly neglecting the needs and well-being of the athletes?

As a coach, just how important is winning to you? When your team or athletes win, does that mean you are doing your job better? Does it make you a more effective coach?

Similarly, when your athletes fail, does that mean you have failed? Are your athletes’ and team’s losses concrete evidence of your incompetence?

None of us know what is in the contract between the coaches and the sports bodies. The trend now seems to make “coaches” scapegoats. How many of the players or athletes are real winners or which sports team is really worthy champions knowing not many are “classic” players? We should be realistic in setting targets.

Initially, sport was meant to make us fit and healthy until it became commercialised. And ever since sport became “professional”, success had been the talk of everyone.

Of course, you know that sport is supposed to be “all about the games”. You also know coaching is all about being a good role model, enhancing self-esteem and building character.

Furthermore, coaches’ No. 1 priority is the welfare and happiness of the players.

Because winning has become so important as a culture, because being No. 1 has been erroneously equated with coaching success and competence, some of our sports, clubs, high school and college coaches have forgotten what their real mission as a professional is.

These coaches have come to mistakenly believe the win-lose outcome of their season is far more important than participation, character development and safety of their athletes.

They believe an athlete’s failure equals to a coach’s failure. And why shouldn’t they feel this way when coaches at every level are regularly criticised and fired for not winning enough?

Yet Brian Clough, one of the EPL’s greatest ever managers, “the greatest manager England never had”, saw it differently: “Players lose your games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes.”

He also believed the buck didn’t necessarily end with the coach.

“If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well,” Clough says.

When it comes right down to it though, isn’t the true essence of “good coaching”, winning? Isn’t that what coach Vince Lombardi used to say: “Winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s the only thing!”

AZIZI AHMAD

VIA EMAIL