Competition: Winners and Losers

Mark Frasco - President

October 2014 – I’m a baseball fan; raised in Southern California, so if you’ve watched five minutes of Sports Center this past week, you understand my current state of mind. It got me thinking about competition, and winners and losers.

Last week, my wife and I traveled to Kentucky and Tennessee with friends. Saturday, we visited their daughter, a sophomore at University of Kentucky. We joined her and her friends at Keeneland horse track for a day of races.

During my twenties, I was a regular at the Los Alamitos horse track with family and friends. Over the years, I’ve marveled at how this partnership of horse and jockey gain and retreat around a race track. Starting position, fast or slow start, from behind, outside or on the rail, strategies and synchronous action creates winners and losers. In horse racing, not unlike other parts of life, the finality of winning and losing can be decided by a nose, hardly a measurable difference in performance.

That night, we held tickets to one of the most significant UK football games in years. UK had an SEC marquee matchup against the University of South Carolina, led by legendary coach, Steve Spurrier. USC has finished in the Top 25 each year, from 2010 – 2013. Kentucky, on the other hand, has a legendary basketball team. Their football team won two games in 2013.

The game started with USC racing to a 14 point lead. It was unseasonably cold; I was feeling the chill in my bones, thinking to myself, “Maybe we should get out early… find a comfortable spot next to a fire.” Well, not so fast my friend. With 11:25 left in the 3rd quarter, using a perfectly executed trick play, UK scored a touchdown, capturing the lead, 24-17.

After the touchdown, during the media break, hip-hop music blared from the stadium sound system. The UK kicking team bunched up at their 35-yard line and started to dance to the song. This wasn’t just any dance; this was a raucous, confident, statement dance. Like a cheer squad, they got 80,000 plus to their feet, cheering UK through challenges and ultimately to a last minute victory.

What happened on that field in Kentucky? How did that dance, that attitude, that action, potentially change the trajectory of Kentucky football? Is it reasonable to expect Kentucky can produce winning football teams?

I believe winning has less to do with talent than it does attitude. Winners have certain characteristics that losers fail to harness. Consider the following framework; think about your organization or team. Are you prepared to win?

Conviction – There must exist, system-wide, a firm belief that what you do, and why you do what you do is important, if not critical to the world, market, your organization and team members. Belief in who you are, what you do and why you do it supplies the foundation for winning.

Expectation – The organization, each leader in it and every performer in the system must be clear on what is expected of them, likewise, each performer should have clear expectations of the organization, in return. Anticipation of some future that is better than the current state is a fundamental motivator.

Action – Expectations inform, if not require, planned action. This means alternative action is found to be wasteful, not productive. Energetic, enthusiastic, constructive, masterful action trumps the action of losers, however busily they complete their days.

Our first night of the trip, Friday, after dinner, I watched a five run Dodger lead evaporate to the Cardinals, with our ace, Clayton Kershaw on the mound. He gave up eight runs in the 7th inning. During the season, he’d typically go four or five games before giving up as many runs. St. Louis seemed to know which pitches were being thrown by arguably the best pitcher in the game. The Dodgers never recovered and lost the series in four games, 3-1, after another Kershaw loss in the final game. Kershaw had a regular season record of 21-3, leading baseball in wins and ERA (1.77).

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve concluded that the St. Louis Cardinals had conviction. They had an unshakable belief that they could not only beat Kershaw, but beat the Dodgers. In the clubhouse, the dugout and on the base paths, each understood the expectations on them and had clear expectations of their teammates. They also expected to win. Those expectations drove their actions.

I expect some form of this system, built confidence, relaxing them, enabling their individual and team talent to surface and dominate their competition. The difference between winning and losing can sometimes be hard to measure, but have no doubt, the system with conviction, clear expectations and planned action, has learned how to win and repeat the process.

What about win/win and moral victories? All good, but be careful not to celebrate these when the situation clearly requires competition in order to win.

Confidence is the feeling you feel just before you succeed.

Questions or comments? Please contact Mark Frasco at