Playing vs winning

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While I sat at the Malaysian Open women’s tennis tournament this week, I thought a lot about tennis. It was my first pro tournament, and I was taking everything in: the way the ball boys/girls move the balls around, the role of the umpire as over-lord of the court, and the lack of commentators (particularly during the five minute warm-up where the player stats are usually shown on tv).

Another thing I thought about was winning.

Obviously, this was a competitive tournament, with prize money and WTA points up for grabs. Rankings could change upon winning. So, everyone wants to win. But I philosophised that while winning seemed to be the objective of the players, in reality it is, or should be, the result of playing well. By playing well I mean executing your shots as intended, as much as possible.

This sort of seems obvious, but consider this pair of hypotheticals:

  1. A player plays reasonably well against lesser opponents. He/she doesn’t need to play their best tennis to win the tournament. They win.
  2. A player plays very well against equal and better opponents. He/she needs to play their absolute best tennis to have a chance at winning the tournament, and they do so. They make it to the final but lose to a better opponent with more experience/skill/fitness etc.

Putting the amount of prize-money aside[1. I’ve removed money from this scenario because winning the Aussie Open will get you $2.5M, which for me at least, would overshadow any performance satisfactions/dissatisfactions for a good while. Also, I think this scenario is valid even at a recreational level, where no money is offered for winning.], which player would be more satisfied?
Which player would be happier?

I’d bet the second player would be happier. And I think this scenario can be applied to many things in life’s every day dealings. Play hard and well. You will be the happier for it. Winning is a nice bi-product.