Sports, physical training, and coaching have been my life for the last three decades. From the time I started playing soccer when I was five years old until today, many of the life lessons I’ve learned have either been found on the field, in the dojo, or in the gym. Over these 30 years, my individual wins and losses have become less meaningful in comparison to the learning process, of which they have become a part. Although when I look back, it’s easy to see this process, I know that at the time of the actual wins and losses, it was much harder to see the big picture.

Over the last few months, I’ve experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows that you can experience as a coach in the fight game. These two experiences have forced me to take a hard look at myself and how I view the world. I found that I was again guilty of valuing the sole outcome of an event much more than the long process that led to that particular outcome. I wrote this article to make sure that you, the reader, are not making the same mistake.

The highest of highs came the night that Renzo Gracie defeated mixed martial arts legend, Pat Miletich, on his home turf in front of an angry crowd of 10,000 people. Even though I missed a connecting flight from Memphis, Tennessee to Quad City, Iowa and had to drive through the night and a historic rainstorm to get to the fight, his victory overshadowed this torturous trip and became one of the top sports moments of my life. Following his submission win in the first round, our group of over 40 Renzo supporters jumped and danced in the ring. We tossed Renzo into the air screaming “Jiu Jitsu!” over and over at the top of our lungs. This moment was pure ecstasy and I hope everyone gets to experience that at least once in their life. The adrenaline from the outcome of that night affected me with a feeling of being on top of the world for weeks afterward.

The lowest of lows came recently when Daniel Gracie was TKO-ed by Alan Goes from strikes in the second round. Due to work obligations, I wasn’t able to attend the IFL show in Portland, Oregon. When I didn’t get a call in the middle of the night about the results, I knew something went wrong. I woke up at 5 am, got on the computer, and was crushed when I saw the results. Because of this outcome, I just sat slumped in my chair unable to move for half an hour. That day was ruined as well as the next few. It wasn’t until after I spoke with Daniel a few days later that I began to understand the error in the way I had reacted in both instances.

When I first spoke to Daniel, he seemed much less upset about the outcome than I was. He saw it as an error in strategy and reminded me of the progress he had made over the three months leading up to the fight. Only then did I remember that he was more disciplined than ever in his training.

Daniel had cut almost 30 pounds the right way to make the 205 lb weight for the fight. This took an incredible amount of focus, discipline, and attention to detail, more than he’d ever previously displayed. He also improved his cardiovascular conditioning, which he knew had been suspect in the past. As a result of his efforts, he had also developed a higher self esteem. At the weigh-ins for the fight, he was even picked out by a famous model to appear on a reality show focused on modeling! I was making a huge mistake by devaluing those three months leading up to the fight by comparing them to less than 10 minutes in the ring. I was weighing the outcome much more heavily than the process.

What I want everyone out there to understand is that your life is not measured in wins and losses. Your life is made up of the time spent in between these events. The time in between competitions and events are the moments in which we grow our resolve, learn our techniques, and harden our bodies. When you commit to a competition or a fight, you’ve just given yourself the gift of the process. By setting a date for an event in your head, you’ve given yourself purpose to prepare and improve yourself over that period. Without the preparation and subsequent growth as a result, you would never make any progress. You can never measure the process against the outcome. As I often remind my fighters shortly before their fights, win or lose, if you’ve done your best during the preparatory process, you’ve already won the most important battle.

I recently competed in the east coast judo championships here in the US. I had two wins and two losses at the event. At first, I was furious because I made a foolish technical error which led to one of my losses in a match that I was winning. As the days went on, those losses became what I think is the best thing that could have happened to me. Not only did I recognize that I would grow as a result of those losses, but I also realized that the same mistakes wouldn’t happen again. While preparing for the contest, I’d improved technically and knew that my stand up was now better. To measure the process against a loss would have been insane. Although I know that this sounds like common sense, working with many athletes over the years, I’ve found that common sense is not always that common.

The “L” that a fighter is traditionally given on his record for losing shouldn’t be seen negatively. A combat athlete should let that “L” stand for two positive terms—lesson and learning. Many of the athletes I’ve worked with see losing as a time of crisis. Interestingly, the Chinese characters that stand for the word crisis can be translated as both danger and opportunity. I believe the translation that a fighter chooses can eventually decide his or her destiny. If every loss is an opportunity to improve the process, he or she will always be moving forward on the path to success. If the fighter simply sees a loss as a dangerous outcome, he or she is going in the wrong direction.

I also find it interesting that a win isn’t always the best positive stimulus for improving the process either. When an athlete adds another “W” to their record, they may not have the impetus to improve on where they currently are. A win can lead to a false sense of security that the athlete has all the physical and technical tools they need and that the process doesn’t need to be improved upon. I believe this is why you commonly hear that in sports, as in business, the most dangerous place to be is at the top. Not only is everyone looking to knock you off the peak, but once you’re up there, you may be enjoying the view a little too much.

My advice is to get caught up in the process, not the outcome. By focusing on constant improvement from one event to the next, you’ll always be moving forward regardless of what the occasional “L” might say on your record.

Keep a journal

To get my athletes to focus on the process, I have them keep a journal. It also ensures that they track their own progress after the outcome and keep going in the right direction.

Athletes should be recording everything during the process, not just their wins and losses. I believe that if every athlete remembered their training process as easily as their record, they’d be making more progress. This journal will serve as a reminder of what they did that worked and what needs to be changed. Without it, all that work during the process could lead to nothing.

This journal should record pre- and post-competition thoughts and actions to remind them to make all important changes whether the result is a win or a loss. It should also record all of their training as well as their diet and nutrition habits. All too often, we forget the things that were working. Keeping track of the details will make sure that this doesn’t happen. They should also take pictures throughout the training process so that they can compare them to past photos at the same points in their training. Then they’ll know if their physique is on track or ahead of where they were in the past. Anything else is just guesswork.

This article was written to remind us all that every step in our journey counts as much as the next. To forget this is to lose track of the process. I hope everyone was inspired to enjoy the process more and place less emphasis on the outcome. I believe if you correctly focus on the process, the outcome will take care of itself. Now get to work!


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