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  • David Cotti

Winning Even When We Lose

High school was a crazy ride. The school's mascot inspired courage in our students and pumped fear into the hearts of our rivals. Our school mascot was the beloved Jack Rabbitt! Yes, a funky-ass bunny! The campus was huge, where roughly five thousand students delicately balanced academic and interpersonal challenges with the skill and intuition to give the 118th United States Congress a run for its money.

I was far from an academic. I was more interested in chasing tail, hanging out, joyriding, fighting, drinking, smoking, and competing in sports - primarily wrestling and boxing. I was into all the shit that would one day lead to a seamless transition into military life. So much so my Basic Training Drill Sergeants seemed soft compared to my wrestling coach, Coach Williams. He was about five feet six inches tall, barrel-chested with 20-inch biceps and massive quads. Coach ran a tight ship, demanding nothing short of our best effort while slowly increasing optimal performance throughout the season. A wise man, I remember him saying, "Rehearse each match in your head - visualize every move you want to make - know that you have won before ever stepping on the mat!"

We were competing against Westwood High. I went through my pre-match ritual by stretching, practicing my drills, and visualizing how I intended the match to unfold. Sitting there with my eyes closed, mentally rehearsing, I heard one of my teammates calling for me. "Hey, Cotti!" Jeremy said in a loud, baritone voice, "Come over here!" Jeremy was our 189-pounder and built like Drago from Rocky IV! Overall, Jeremy meant well and was a good teammate. But on this particular day, Jeremy told me I didn't stand a chance against my opponent. I later discovered Jeremy was tight with that dude; go figure. Moments after receiving those inspiring words from Jeremy, my match began. I couldn't seem to get in a groove - my mental game was completely off, and I lost the match. I was highly disappointed with my performance because I knew, deep down, I didn't give it my best. I allowed counterproductive thoughts to rule the moment.

Lesson learned: Find a way to rid the mind of counterproductive thoughts. Lanny Bassham talks in great detail about this subject in his book, "With Winning in Mind."

A few months later, we were competing in the big annual Flagstaff Invitational. Our team won the tournament the previous year, causing internal team pressure for a repeat. The competition was challenging, and the matches were exhausting! And once again, we found ourselves competing in the finals. My opponent was a senior (I was a sophomore then) and ranked among the top five in the state. I prepared for this match as all the others beforehand. As I was warming up, Coach Williams said, "Cotti, leave it all on the mat!" My opponent and I shake hands, and the whistle blows! I'm in the zone! Takedown after takedown. Point after point - my opponent is right there with me, scoring points of his own! The match goes into overtime and then into double overtime! I'm running on fumes - nothing left in the tank.

I lost the match, but this time it felt different. I wasn't upset or disappointed with myself. I gave every ounce of what I could and left it all on the mat. Coach Williams said he was proud of me and that my performance saved us enough team points for the tournament win. If I had been pinned or lost by an overwhelming number of points, we would not have walked away as champions. And yes, we did blast Queen through the bus speakers all the way home! Even though I lost my last match that day, my head was held high. I gave it my best shot, knowing I would only improve as time passed.

As time passed, I learned incredible lessons that have been applied to many aspects of my journey. I can never lose as long as I give to an endeavor from the heart.

Here's the big "so what."

There's more to life than simply winning or being the best. While achieving success and winning can certainly feel great, it is essential to recognize that other values are equally, if not more, important. For example, striving toward a goal can be just as rewarding and meaningful as the achievement itself. The effort, growth, and learning that occur along the way can be valuable experiences that shape us and prepare us for future challenges. Furthermore, other essential aspects of life exist, such as relationships, community, and personal well-being. A singular focus on winning should not overshadow that. These areas of life can bring us joy, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose that cannot be achieved through winning alone. The journey is often times sweeter than the destination.

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Mar 31, 2023

Cotti...yet another wonderful post. I "feel" like I was watching the sweat droplets hit the mat. Thanks for this wonderful insight.

P.S. Love the new format of the blog!

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