Feb 23, 2023 - Sports

Axios Finish Line: Excellence over success on the field

Brad McCarty. Photo: Messiah University

Brad McCarty — head coach of the men's soccer team at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa. — is one of the winningest and dogmatically philosophical coaches in soccer.

  • One of the things this Division 3 coach preaches to his players is choosing excellence over success as the end goal.

Why it matters: After sitting through his recruitment pitch to my son Kelvin, the coach's case for excellence over success stuck with me because it's something we can actually control.

  • I was only vaguely aware of Messiah before coaches reached out to Kelvin. Turns out, the excellence-over-success philosophy produces, well, a lot of success.
  • McCarty's record over 13 years at Messiah is 266-19-18 — the second-highest winning percentage in NCAA men's or women's soccer, across all three divisions.

Think of excellence vs. success through the prism of business, particularly sales. You could work your ass off to have the best sales pitch, selling the best product, with the best attitude and intent, and ... fail.

  • Closing the deal would = success. So by that measure, you flopped. But maybe the client was broke or the market tanked.
  • Yet if your pursuit was excellence in your craft, and you approximated it, then you'll likely win long-term, even if you lose in the moment.

Here's why that applies more broadly to your work:

  1. Excellence is healthier. Success can create perverse incentives. If being seen as a success is your motivator, you're less likely to obsess about the small details of how and why. You're also less likely to do the right things for the right reasons.
  2. Excellence is more real. You could do a mediocre job and still find astonishing success. Maybe you lucked into an easy win or surfed a boom market. But when your luck runs dry or the market crashes, you are ... still mediocre.
  3. Excellence is achievable. We control whether we work and think a little smarter each day, and push ourselves a little harder. We can sharpen our craft, our character, our performance. Nothing is more satisfying than knowing you're a little better today than yesterday. You make you your measurement — not someone else's definition of success.
  4. Excellence produces better results. Success is fleeting. Excellence lasts — and builds on its momentum. The more you push yourself to up your game, the better you get. The better you get, the more excellent you'll want to be.

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

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