From the Director’s Chair: What Is Pursuing Victory With Honor?

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” “Second place is just the first loser.” “Winning takes care of everything.” “Win or go home.”

We’ve all heard quotes like these, and we’ve all seen the nightly broadcasts of playoff games that are “do or die.”

I’m a huge sports fan, but sometimes I have to laugh when I hear broadcasters pontificate on the “critical” or “crucial” situation facing a player or a sports team. Yes, in reality there are win-or-go-home games, but they’re not life and death. That’s war and famine, and it’s not a game.

One of my favorite movie scenes is in the Legend of Bagger Vance where Bagger, played by Will Smith, tells Captain Junah, played by Matt Damon, that “golf is a game that can’t be won, only played.”

Of course, you can win in sports, even in golf. But, how you pursue that victory says more about you than the victory itself.

For the past 15 years, the Josephson Institute of Ethics has been conducting seminars on “Pursuing Victory with Honor” with the support and guidance of many great coaching legends and former athletes who achieved the highest recognition in their sport.

One such athlete is John Naber, the four-time gold medalist at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, is still an active supporter of the program and in fact will be a guest speaker at our June 9 sportsmanship workshop in Culver City, California.

(Read more about our sportsmanship workshops for schools and youth leagues.)

For much of my life, I have either played or coached sports, and I am still impressed when I see student-athletes shaking hands after a game or giving respect to an opponent no matter how much they want to defeat them. Perhaps the best example is the double line of players on the ice after the Stanley Cup is decided annually, skating down the line to shake hands. There’s still truth to the old phrase, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

But don’t confuse me with those who feel we shouldn’t keep score and shouldn’t have winners and losers in games. I believe that a person’s character is revealed more when they lose than when they win. Competition without results is nothing more than practice.

In California’s Tulare County, Central CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) game officials recognize outstanding players for sportsmanship with pins after each game. Before the games, athletes and spectators often recite a Pursuing Victory With Honor sportsmanship statement. (Read more about CIF’s PVWH program.)

If your school, organization or community is using CHARACTER COUNTS! without PVWH, you’re eating peanut butter sandwiches without the jelly. For many, that may be OK, but some things are just meant to be together.

That’s why, in 1999, coaching legends and great athletes convened to create the Pursuing Victory With Honor framework. Now the program is being used by schools and athletic organizations all over the country. We are proud of how these groups have taken the ball and run with it, and we look forward to making an ever greater impact on the youth of America and the sports they play.

But enough talk. Get out there and show ’em how it’s done! As Knute Rockne, legendary football coach of Notre Dame, said: “One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.”