By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA
After a very close loss, an NCAA Division I basketball coach proclaimed, “We’re not in this and I don’t believe in moral victories.” The winner of the five-point game was a nationally ranked top-five team and the losing team was not ranked and was a visitor in an extremely difficult environment.
The game was only decided in the last few seconds and was extremely well played by both teams. Despite the disparity of talent and being in a hostile arena, the losing team gave a great effort and probably played its best game of the season.
Why can’t you be proud of your players and be happy with their effort and improvement? You should! Of course, on the Division I level, winning does matter. Filling the seats in the arena, securing TV contracts, working for a March Madness berth and potential donations from rabid alumni do necessitate wins. And major college coaches are paid huge salaries to amass winning seasons.
In high school athletics, however, the concept of education-based athletics should apply. While preparing and striving to win is important, the development of student-athletes has to be the most important outcome. And this means that moral victories are not only acceptable, but should be used as a method of teaching and learning lifelong lessons.
Even though you didn’t win an important game doesn’t mean that you didn’t gain anything because if a loss is handled properly, your players and team may have accomplished a great deal.
Following are a few items that should be considered.
- Even in a loss, the value of preparation and the hard work during the game should be recognized and appreciated. If the players gave total effort against a superior opponent, this is a huge gain. This is something that can be used as a teaching example in order to promote continued development and growth.
- The fact that other teams, when they played this opponent, were defeated by much larger margins – often by 20 or more points – your team did accomplish a great deal. Improvement and success can be measured even if the final result was a loss.
- Whether due to fewer turnovers, more consistent shooting, greater intensity on defense and perhaps better rebounding, your players obviously improved their skills. Individual and team skill development should be a goal in every game and throughout the season. When players are continually improving, positive gains are being made.
- Often an outstanding effort versus a superior opponent can only be made with contributions from multiple players. The team had to buy into the concept that when all players do their part and fill their role, it will be more successful. It would be impossible to compete and contend with a very talented team without the majority of your athletes doing their part. Teamwork – isn’t this a mark of success?
- In order to compete successfully with a highly rated team, the players had to remain upbeat and receptive to coaching. Of course, this also means that a coach also had to be positive and encouraging with the athletes. Athletes and a team can’t approach this major challenge if they don’t think it is possible.
- For sports in which you may play an opponent a second time later in a season, a team may lose but the margin of defeat may have been much smaller. This most likely means improved execution on offense and a better result on defense. All of this can be measured. It means that there has been improvement, which should be a goal of education-based athletics.
- Demonstrating improvement throughout the season also indicates that the athletes have been persistent and worked hard. By using these attributes, which are also lifelong qualities promoted in education-based athletics, the athletes did gain something in the process even though there may have been many loses.
- And it is also important to understand and embrace the motivational or inspirational aspects of a good performance against a superior team. A coach may often express, “You can do it,” to his players. A huge leap will be made, when you can proclaim, “You did it!” A moral victory is affirmation of effort, hard work and all of the other positive qualities involved in education-based athletics.
- In addition, a moral victory can and should also be valuable for the well-grounded coach who is devoid of an inflated ego. When you see young people rise to the challenge and continue to improve, you know that you are on the right track. You are making a difference in the lives of young people!
In connection to the concept of moral victories, extraordinary efforts and improvement of the athletes provide hope. There is something to look forward to and the next game can be a victory. And education-based athletics should be positive, nurturing and the basis for hope.
Obviously, coaches and athletes should prepare and strive to win. However, unlike the pros and major colleges, high school athletics also has greater objectives. Winning at these highest levels of athletics is necessary in order to make a profit through attendance, TV contracts and donations from alumni.
In high school athletics, moral victories and the gains and lessons learned along the way are the essence of education-based athletes. Unlike the pros and major college programs, winning is not the only or ultimate goal for high school programs. Embrace and use moral victories to teach and guide your athletes!
About the Author: Dr. David Hoch recently retired as the athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 350 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.