Winning Versus Learning to be a Winner

Mike Lawson • • December 4, 2018

Share This:

It is often very tempting in band programs to want to focus on getting trophies.

It is always nice to be recognized, but at the end of the day, a trophy is just a piece of plastic that will collect dust in your trophy display. Putting the emphasis of your program on winning competitions can be a very unhealthy mindset.

First of all, when your students don’t win, they will feel down about their efforts and it is not good for their self-esteem. Second of all, when they do win, they may have a false sense of what level the program is really at. I have seen many ensembles practice a few songs obsessively for months just to get a trophy. While there is nothing wrong with perfecting a song, it sometimes can come at the cost of neglecting more important and longer-lasting aspects of your program such as fundamentals and values. Scott Stewart, DCI Hall of Famer and the former director of the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps, made a very memorable and profound quote for the ages. Scott said, “There’s a difference between winning, and learning to be a winner.”

Scott taught his students how to win in life. And ironically, his drum corps were very dominant in the 1970s through the 1990’s, with Scott taking part in two DCI World Championships and groups that were almost always in the Top 5. There were often years where the judging community placed the corps much lower than where should have been. But Scott Stewart always told the corps to pay absolutely no attention to scores, and he placed his emphasis on what was most important, which is a passion for education and the development of our youth. If the scores didn’t go our way, then that was just fine, because that was not our end goal.

I asked Scott Stewart to be a guest spokesman specifically for this article and luckily, he obliged. He said “The difference between winning and being a winner is very important to understand, particularly in a very subjective world. Winning, by itself, is a short-lived thrill, whereas being a winner is a learned process of honestly doing ones best by pursuing and achieving excellence. You have complete control over being a winner, but outside factors determine in part whether you win or not.” I mentally recorded another quote from Scott Stewart from over 20 years ago when I was in the Madison Scouts. Scott said “It doesn’t matter what you do in life, because if you put the same kind of effort and dedication that you are putting into our season, into any other part of life, you will always have success. Nothing you ever do will be more difficult than what we are asking you to do this season.”

For me personally as a student, coming from a group with a focus on education was absolutely amazing. I felt very confident after three years under Mr. Stewart’s leadership, and I had a very great concept of attention to detail as well as discipline. I had the confidence of knowing that if things don’t go well for me in any aspect of my life, all that mattered was whether I put in my best effort as well as the proper effort for what I was trying to achieve.

In the arts and entertainment world, where everything is so subjective and opinion oriented, this mindset has been absolutely invaluable.

I think it is so important to redefine success in our nation’s music programs because I believe the health of all organizations relies on a very broad and sustained effort, apart from the competitions and performances. Music educators have to recruit, hold fundraisers for the budget, keep equipment maintained and repaired, deal with public relations, keep leadership in place, deal with band boosters, deal with the musical and emotional needs of individual students, and much more! The behind the scenes “building blocks” of a program make up 90 percent of what it is. The performances are just the end result of much deeper and sustained efforts to build a program. I have witnessed many successful programs in terms of recognition and awards, but I have also witnessed programs that didn’t focus on competitions at all, and instead built their programs on “education.” Focusing on fundamentals, musicianship, music theory, musical concepts, proper technique, and teamwork is the absolute heart of any music program. With this kind of foundation, you will graduate kids who are educated, well-trained, confident, and ready to take on the world. The best and most gratifying reward for any teacher is watching their students succeed in life!

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!