Once when my son was playing Little League Baseball, I overheard the coach telling the kids, “Just have a good time. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.” At this point, I interrupted the coach and said, “Wait a minute. I do not want you to teach my child that it is OK to lose. I want you to teach him how to win! Americans do not like to lose. They like to win. It’s much more fun to be a winner and not a loser.” That’s in sports, academics, business and in life.
At this point, my wife grabbed my arm and pulled me away. She was embarrassed.
The message resonates
Years went by, and I thought the matter was long forgotten. During my son’s senior year in high school, he was required to give a senior speech. I was very proud to attend and hear his talk. Somewhere in his address, he brought up the story. He said, “Back in Little League, my father said I should learn to be a winner — that I do not want to be a loser. That comment has stayed with me from that day forward. I want to be a winner in life.”
This lesson in life has always been important to me from my earliest days. I wanted to be the best I could at whatever I undertook. I didn’t always win, but I always tried to win. In sports, I gave my all to the team. In academics, I wanted to please my parents. In music, I wanted to be first chair trumpet in the band.
When the opportunity arose for me to attend Harvard College, I wondered if I could compete with prep school city boys, and at the same time, I was invigorated but also challenged. I figured the worst thing that could happen to me was I would end up in a small Oklahoma state college. I decided to attend Harvard.
Give it your all
I gave it my all — night and day. I didn’t even have a date for six months. My classmates were talking about subjects I knew nothing about. Everyone had a better secondary education that I did. In a way, I was scared, but I persevered and made it. In my mind, I was intense.
When I look back over my life, the desire to win has never left me. Clearly, the desire followed into my business life, especially at Invacare. I was able to transfer this “desire to win” to my associates. We rose from an obsolete wheelchair company to the world leader in home health care equipment.
The important lessons to be learned here are never be afraid to try something new and always play to win. I have always said, “Show me a good loser, and I will show you a loser.”