Elevate Your Game

Lessons From Losing a Championship

by Shawn Jones on Apr 8, 2024

I watch championship-level competitions– the Super Bowl, the NBA Championship, NCAA Final Four– and I always think about the losing team as they interview the player or coach after the final buzzer.  I never think they are losers.  I always have a respect that they made it to the pinnacle of their sport and just came up short that day.  They are at the ceiling of their abilities and performance. Play the game again any other day and maybe the opposite result happens.  Obviously, they are good enough to be there and win it.

This year I was reminded about the pain of being so close to winning a championship and coming up short.  My team played for the Texas 3A State Championship and lost in OT to a quality team and coach.  The interesting thing is that I didn’t immediately feel fulfilled and accomplished.  I felt like I let the world down.  I wanted so terribly bad to deliver a championship to our town, my players, and my coaches to let them experience what it feels like to know that you are the ultimate #1 team after everything is over.  I failed.

Now, with a little time and space between me and the final buzzer, I am starting to realize just how much we accomplished and how we over-achieved in so many areas.  We had to beat the #1 team in Texas just to get to the Final Four… and even that came down to the last possession of the game.  We got hot at the right time, beat a handful of really good teams, and just came up 5 points short in the championship.  So what did I learn?

I learned that 231 schools in our classification began the season hoping to play in that game.  We were one of two left standing in March.  We never talked about it.  We just talked about getting better every day and being the best we could be.  We focused on the little things every day.  We knew our limitations and weaknesses and worked incessantly all season to improve them to reach our ceiling– whatever that would be for this team.

I learned that it goes by so fast that my advice to every player and coach is to savor every win and every moment, or you cheat yourself of those rewards.  We take a team picture after every win.  Some say it is redundant and dumb.  I say people who say that have never won anything to know.  I look back over the 36 wonderful pictures from this season and am reminded of all the subplots and stories that happened that made life memories.

I also learned that winning it all doesn’t significantly change much.  I know, because I have done both.  I can compare the effects of winning a state championship and losing a state championship upon my life… and they aren’t much different.  I still had to mow the lawn and take out the trash after each experience.  Nobody offered me a million dollar endorsement deal, nor took one away for that matter.  My monthly school income stayed the same.  The cool thing is that the underclassmen were there in the gym the next week, ready to work and get better.  That’s what coaching is about.

Most importantly, I think I have learned to appreciate the process of working with kids and developing their abilities to their ceiling.  We just tried to get better every day.  We never talked about playing for a state championship.  We just focused on winning TODAY.  Not all teams are going to make it to the state championship. In fact, most aren’t.  I have coached 30 years and made it to 4 Final Fours. That’a 13% efficiency.  But, I get to work with kids and push them to become the very best they can be every day! Those rewards of seeing athletes grow and improve are priceless.  

Looking back I can see how each athlete we had got better this season and reached their personal ceiling of skills and abilities.  Collectively, it equaled into a state championship contender.  

How are you helping your athletes reach their ceilings?  Isn’t that the true measure of being a great coach?  You take what you have and make it as good as it can be.  Some teams will have very high ceilings.  Some will have lower ones.  It doesn’t matter.  Our jobs are to work with kids and inspire them to put in the work to reach their ceiling.  When it is all over and done, you will have won more than a championship if you do that with each athlete.

Ballogy is here to help coaches with skill development resources, the ability to assign workouts, and assess/evaluate progress.  It has built in motivators like leaderboards to rank performance within your own team, as well as state and national athletes.  Let one of us show you how Ballogy can help you win the biggest championship of all— the one where each athlete you have reaches his or her athletic ceiling and you make them the best they can possibly be!