The biggest news in the sports world right now is ‘The Last Dance’, the Michael Jordan / Chicago Bulls documentary. One of the episodes focused on the relationship between Jordan and his teammates, specifically how he pushed them in practice and matches (and the change room and bus) to reach their maximum potential so he could ‘win’. The overarching theme is that Jordan would do ‘anything to win’, including damaging his relationships with his teammates, and should be lauded for it. Conversely, those who could not cope with his style were not prepared to do ‘anything to win’, and are deserving of our scorn.
But what does it mean to do ‘anything to win’?
The focus in the documentary (and general discussion on the topic) is on task focus and hard work. High focus, hard work = ‘anything to win’. In reality that is the most superficial of interpretations. In an environment where a dominant personality demands a specific way of working, the other players are making many more sacrifices than the general discomfort that comes from hard work and high focus. They are also sacrificing individual recognition, pride, financial reward and in this case were often emasculated in the process. They were expected to do all of those things to ‘win’.
The overarching theme of the documentary (other than Jordan) is that the team was broken up because Jerry Krause did not receive enough credit. It was not enough for him to ‘win’, and so he had to break up the team, start from scratch and prove he should have had the credit for all the winning in the first place. In reality, he was not prepared to do ‘anything to win’ (after a point). Jordan had to win. Of that there is no question. But would he really have done ‘anything to win’? Would he have been prepared to share the credit? To compromise? To pass up the biggest shots?* I have written before that competitiveness is often misinterpreted.
There are many sacrifices that are required to win. We tend to judge players very strictly on the hard work, high focus part but devalue the other sacrifices they are making. And we give far too many free passes to players who very clearly would not do ‘anything to win’ but who seem competitive because they scowl on TV and get angry at people.
If winning is really your primary goal, if you think you will do ‘anything to win’, you have to ask yourself, am I prepared to: compromise, be wrong, share credit, help others**, take less money, ignore slights and insults, look stupid in public.
If you can answer yes to ALL of these questions, then you can say you would do ‘anything to win’.
*share credit – grudgingly, compromise – a bit, shots – not often, but sometimes
**help others is not the same as tell others what to do