Do You Play To Win, or Play Not To Lose?

I recently watched a lot of the Olympics, and was thinking about this post the other day. Wanted to share it once again!

When I first heard this statement with respect to a professional hockey team’s play, I stopped in my tracks. On the surface, it seems like the same concept spun two different ways. Or is it?

Playing to win exudes confidence. There is nothing that can get in the way of the team and victory. They execute the game plan to perfection, and do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Mistakes may still happen, but they get back on track in a timely fashion. It is clear in their body language that nothing less than success will be accepted by everyone.

On the other hand, the team playing not to lose exudes tentativeness. Their primary goal is to not make mistakes and look foolish in front of teammates and coaches. In their minds, if they don’t make any mistakes, they should win. On paper that makes sense. Those who follow sports hear this often, but if the other team plays an all round better game, you will still lose. Body language supports the theory that they are just trying not to screw up, and it shows.

Take a moment and step back to think about your current sales or business role. Do you always feel like you are on top of your “game” and nothing can stop you? If you do, congratulations! If we are honest with ourselves, most of us go through phases when we lack confidence and just feel like everything we touch turns in to…. well not gold.

Do you notice when things are going well, mistakes and other challenges in your role do not take as big a tole on you? It seems no matter the size of the setback, you can move past it in record time. Now turn the tables. When things are not going well, and confidence is low, even the little things seem like huge issues. The world seems to be against you, and it is nearly impossible to get out of the funk.

  • Are you playing to win, or playing not to lose?
    • Are you afraid to make mistakes, and worry how it will look to teammates and management?
    • Or do you understand that mistakes happen, learn from them, and move on as quickly as possible?
  • Do you approach your role everyday with confidence, a bounce in your step, and the mindset of “I can do this?”
    • Or do you plod along as you always have; do the same things that you have always done, and just try not to screw up?

“Playing not to lose” is a career limiting decision (CLD). You will feel safe, and your results may be consistent, but your true potential will not be achieved. If you just sit back and watch, you will witness others getting all the glory!

“Playing to win” is a mindset. The Edmonton Oilers, New York Yankees, New England Patriots & Manchester United have not won all of those champions with the attitude of playing just to survive. Playing to win is imperative in anything that you do. It is an attitude that should make you feel unstoppable throughout your career.


About Tim Mushey

Dynamic and energized sales rep, mentor and leader since 1999. This blog will be about sales, social networking, personal branding, leadership, music and having some laughs! Don’t be surprised if I mix it up on occasion, and talk about something totally different! I thrive on being part of successful, forward thinking teams. I am ready to go from the moment my feet hit the floor each morning, with the expectation that new adventures will be coming my way. It is rare that there isn't a smile on my face, as I take it all in, and have some fun along the way!

Posted on February 26, 2014, in Success and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Tim,

    Love how you operationalize this saying. Making is useable. I suppose we could make the same case for being “on offense” or “on defense”.

    Have a great day!


  2. Awesome post Tim! Even I got the hockey analogy… and that’s really saying something!

    This was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Thanks!

  3. Tim,

    Great post!!! As they say in football the best defense is a good offense.

    I do think people are focused on not making mistakes or offending anyone, both good objectives, however it leads to mediocre results without true innovation. That being said, winning at any cost in business is equally dangerous since it can alienate the people around including customers.

    Have a great day.


  4. Outstanding article.

  5. Good differentiation, Tim. I can sense when I’m doing one or the other. When you play to win, you take risks that might come to fruition or lead to failure. When you play not to lose, everything is copacetic but there’s no real gain. Write on, dude.

  6. Great points–and some good comments as well. I particularly noticed and appreciate the point about “career limiting decisions.” I’ve seen some of my resume clients struggle with that, so I’m always open to learning ways to help them get past it.

    • Thanks Georgia! Glad you liked the post.Yeah Career Limiting Decisions have affected most of us at some point. The key is to recognize if it happening, and learn from it! Thanks again…

  7. Darn it, Tim. This is something I “know”, have written about, and coached others on. So why did it hit me so hard when I read it from you? Thanks for the needed reminder. Great post!

  8. Tim, great post, thanks.

    Reminded me of an interview question at Bank of America: would you describe yourself as someone who likes to win or hates to lose? Why?

    Funny how predictive the answer is on an individuals performance in an operational role.

    • Hi Vele! Thanks for stopping by. And glad you liked the post. It certain brings up an interesting conversation and analysis doesn’t it? Loving to win and hating to lose could be considered the same thing, but deep down, they are quite different philosophies. Have a great day..

  9. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and reblog! I really appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed the perspective!

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