There’s not much like it in sports. The celebration after a championship win is an experience and a spectacle that every player wants to have and every fan wants to watch. I’ve been on both sides, one year watching the other team celebrate and then being at the bottom of the dog pile the following year. As you well know, winning is always preferable to losing.

But how does it happen?

Before discussing a few elements associated with learning to win, let me say that I believe strongly in playing to win. Clearly, this blog series (and everything I write) refuses to elevate winning to an unhealthy place. No, it should not be pursued above everything else. No, it should not be pursued at the cost of your character. Winning isn’t everything, and it’s also not the only thing.

At the same time, if you’re going to play, play to win. Here’s how.

1. Winning won’t happen just because you want it to. It’s false to say that one team “wanted it more” than their opponents. Unless you’re talking about the 1919 Chicago White Sox, every team you’ve seen play has wanted to win. But wanting to win doesn’t guarantee winning. You can’t want it more than the other team and therefore “deserve” to win more. That’s false. Everyone who’s playing wants it. Do you need to want it? Yes. But just remember the other team wants it to. Wanting it is part of it but not all of it.

2. You can’t win by yourself. Just try it. Every player and coach whose ever won anything has done so based upon the support given from his or her team. Your team might include the other players on the court or field. Or, your team might be a swing coach, an athletic trainer, a strength coach, or a team psychologist. Regardless, you can’t win on your own. Tiger needed Stevie and you need someone (and lots of someones) besides you.

3. If you want to win, you have to get better. Here’s where the wanting it garbage stops. If you aren’t good enough, you aren’t going to win. End of story. Only on occasion does a true upset happen. In nearly every case, the better team or player wins. Teams that make plays, avoid mistakes, and impose their talent on their opponents…they win. If you want to win, get better. Yes, that’s harsh. But it’s true.

4. If you want to get better so you can win, it’s going to require more sacrifice that you probably want to make. No one sees the amount of work put in by those who win consistently. Are they talented? Absolutely. But, even they know that someone will always be as or more talented. Sacrifice, hard work, commitment. Those are often the separators.

5. If you want to win, you must play hard. Not dirty, but definitely hard. Break up that double play. Set that screen firmly. Pitch inside. Light up that quarterback. Never back down. Don’t try to make enemies while you’re playing, but don’t worry about if the other team wants to take you out for ice cream later. Play hard for your team. Play to win.

6. If you want to win, determine if you have the character to sustain you when it happens. Success simply brings out more of who you are. If you’re a jerk, you’ll be a huge jerk when you win. If you’re insecure, it will be on full display after winning (because it won’t give you what you need). No, your character won’t guarantee more winning, but winning guarantees that your character will be tested. If you want to see what someone is really made of, let him win consistently.

Play to win. It’s ok. Really. I honestly think Jesus would play to win. And, if you’re a believer reading this, honor him by giving your coach and teammates your best effort at helping the team win. You’ve been given a gift to play. Go all out. Win or lose.