Don’t Learn How to Lose
After the great hockey coach Herb Brooks led the U.S. Hockey Team to win the Olympic gold medal in 1980 and accomplish the “miracle on ice,” he coached the NHL’s New York Rangers for a few years. After his NHL stint, he took a step back and started coaching amateur hockey in Minnesota. He went from the greatest hockey coaching job of all time to the NHL — and then back to coaching high schoolers.
But the brilliant coach still knew how to win. And he still knew how to teach others how to win.
Over-matched with No One Watching
One night his Minnesota high school team was playing a Michigan team loaded with future professionals. It was ugly. The score was 7 to 1 after the first period. His team was over-matched. John Gilbert described the intermission in his book about Herb Brooks.
One player recalled, “When it’s 7–1, you look at each other and wonder how soon you can get it over and get out of there.”
But Herb Brooks didn’t care about winning or losing. He wanted to teach the boys how to play. He walked into the locker room and started talking to his team.
“Look guys. I’m not nervous. We didn’t beat ourselves. They made some great plays, and we should shake their hands. But they can’t do that all night. People spend their lives looking for chances to prove themselves, and competition is a way to prove yourselves. So we should be laughing, because we’ve got the chance in the next forty minutes to prove ourselves.”
Brooks then made some strategic changes, and then finished with the wisdom that I needed to hear as well as his team.
“Guys, don’t learn to lose. You’re all going to scatter to different teams for college, and you can learn to win or learn to lose. You can start right now. Learn to win, right now.”
You can learn to win or learn to lose. Learn to win, right now.
They Won the Second Period, 1–0
For nearly the entire second period, the score stayed 7 to 1. Then, with four seconds left, Herb’s team scored to make it 7 to 2 after 40 minutes. They had won the second period, 1–0.
Early in the third period, Herb’s team scored three goals in 55 seconds to make it 7 to 5. It was a game now — not a blowout.
Herb’s team was learning to win.
Shortly, both teams scored and it was tied at 8. But winning doesn’t come easy. The Michigan team scored twice in a row to make it 10 to 8. Herb’s team had fizzled out though they made a miraculous comeback.
Don’t learn to lose. Learn to win, right now.
It wasn’t over. Minnesota scored. And then scored again, short handed. At the end of regulation, it was tied, 10 to 10.
It’s Not Over
So many of us learn how to lose. We need exceptional leaders to teach us how to win. It was just a high school game. No one was watching. It was a blowout that turned into a tie.
Herb Brooks wanted overtime. The Michigan team did not. Brooks fought for his team. He fought for overtime. He was teaching them how to win. A tie wasn’t good enough.
Brooks won the debate. His team had another chance to win. And they didn’t waste time. Quickly, they scored in overtime, and won the game 11 to 10.
Herb Brooks’ team had a choice to make. When losing seems inevitable, what do you do?
Do you concede?
Do you settle in and give up?
Or do you make the other player beat you? Do you keep pushing even when it seems like it’s over?
I had to learn this lesson. Herb Brooks knew it. Those Minnesota high school kids learned it.
Don’t learn to lose.
Learn to win, right now.