Winning and Losing: Outplayed or Out-talented?

Winning and Losing: Outplayed or Out-talented?


High Performance sport is founded on a relatively simple equation: you either win or you lose.

And when you lose, it is natural to look for the reasons “why” through performance reviews etc.

A critical aspect in understanding the “losing process” is to find the answer to this question….were you outplayed or out-talented?

What does it mean to be out-played?

Being out-played means that your opposition planned and prepared better than you did.

What does it mean to be out-talented?

Being out-talented means you were beaten by someone who possessed a superior athletic talent. For example, in the Golden Era of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s if you were unlucky enough to come up against Jordan, Pippen and Rodman and company then you were always going to be “out-talented”.

However, sporting loses due to being out-talented are very, very, very rare.

What’s the difference?

The difference between being out-talented and out-played is that being out-played is totally your own fault as you had complete control and responsibility over your own preparation.

The most important principle in competitive sport:

The most important principle in competitive sport is that you as an individual must out-prepare, in every aspect, on and off the “field”, in training and self management areas, your opponent. Doesn’t matter if you are in an individual sport or in a team sport: you, as an individual must out-prepare in every aspect the person you will be competing against. 

Competitive Sport is not a handicap event:

You either win or you lose. Excuses do not count. Blame does not improve performance. It is pointless blaming losing on having “less talent” than your opposition unless, you know with absolute certainty, that you have prepared better in every aspect than they did.

Control the Controllables:

Having been involved in many many review processes over the past ten years with both professional and Olympic sports, it is common for athletes and coaches to look to blame factors outside their control for their failures.

“They had more money than we did”.

“They had more support staff and better access to facilities and sports science”.

They had the best of lucky breaks from officials and referees when it mattered”.

“They had a better group of players than we did”.

All these factors can influence the result of games, matches and even seasons but, they do not overcome the basic requirement of responsibility for optimal personal preparation for every athlete, coach, support staff member and manager in the organisation.

Let’s look at a list of just 20 (and there are hundreds) of the key factors in preparation that you as an athlete or as a coach have complete control over and therefore have complete responsibility for:

  1. You are responsible for every mouthful of food you eat;
  2. You are responsible for every drop of fluid you drink;
  3. You are responsible for every drop of alcohol you drink (or don’t drink);
  4. You are responsible for both the quantity and quality of your sleep;
  5. You are responsible for your level of commitment to and engagement with your training program;
  6. You are responsible for studying your sport and understanding who / where the benchmarks are in all aspects of planning, preparation and performance;
  7. You are responsible for the way you interact with and communicate with team members, support staff, members of the public and other people involved in your Club / organisation;
  8. You are responsible for the way you look (i.e. dress codes, personal standards – “professionalism”);
  9. You are responsible for your attitude to training, preparation and playing;
  10. You are responsible for saying “no” at times which can impact negatively on your preparation and performance (e.g. mid to late evening in social situations – saying “no” to alcohol, reduced sleep etc);
  11. You are responsible for managing your own travel stress, i.e. eating, drinking, sleeping, etc during travel periods;
  12. You are responsible for your recovery program;
  13. You are responsible for the attention to detail to skills practices and learning;
  14. You are responsible for maintaining a balanced lifestyle and keeping mentally healthy;
  15. You are responsible for the attention to detail and a methodical systematic approach to planning your preparation and competition program;
  16. You are responsible for your level of passion, drive and enthusiasm;
  17. You are responsible for being consistent in preparation;
  18. You are responsible for managing your own time;
  19. You are responsible for understanding who you are and living according to your own set of personal values;
  20. And…you are responsible for out-preparing in every aspect, your opponent.


  • Loses in sport which can be 100% attributed to being out-talented are very very rare: most of the time you have been out-played;
  • Being out-played means you were out-prepared;
  • And being out-prepared means the loss was largely your own responsibility;
  • Take personal responsibility for the “controllables”, out-plan and out-prepare your opponent in every aspect and you have the opportunity to win more often.

Wayne Goldsmith


  • Eitel Posted January 13, 2011 7:03 am

    Hi Wayne,

    thanks, I love this article. It is so straight to the point and reminds me to not let the players and staff make excuses for not being prepared properly.

    It also reminds me, that being a coach you have the responsibility to organise and execute 100%

    Thanks for sharing this article with us!

    Best wishes,

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted January 18, 2011 11:38 am

      Thanks Eitel.

      It is easy to blame people, poor facilities, a lack of money, political obstacles etc etc when athletes and teams do not perform.

      People look to blame things outside their control and outside their influence when they fail.

      However, in my experience the majority of losses in sport occur due to issues totally within the control of athletes and coaches.

      Over twenty years working with athletes and coaches, three things to me are true in all sports around the world:

      1. The passion to prepare must be equal to or greater than the potential to perform;

      2. Training and preparation must be more challenging and more demanding than the competition you are preparing for;

      3. Sometimes stuff just happens, i.e. luck can play a role not matter what you do….but you must prepare to deal with anything, anytime. It is amazing how the best prepared also seem to be the most lucky.

      Thanks again,


  • adam radford Posted January 13, 2011 9:59 am

    Hi Wayne,

    Great article.

    Was motivated at all by the current situation in Australian Cricket 🙂

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted January 18, 2011 11:30 am

      Thanks Adam.

      The Australian Cricket team have fallen victim to the “Performance Clock” –
      I can’t believe that no matter how many times I speak about this issue, that athletes, coaches, teams and even organisations continue to accept the myth of the cyclic nature of sport.

      Happens to everyone…only if they let it.

      The other thing it proves is that people change only when it is too late or almost too late.

      Again, there is no need for this if the players, coaches and team are committed to continuous improvement, creativity, innovation and accelerated learning.


  • marcel Posted January 15, 2011 11:15 pm

    Dear Mr. Goldsmith,

    This reminds me of the circle of influence and the circle of concern. If someone is putting his or her effort in the circle of concern, he or she will definitely be out-played !

    So to every athlete, administrator, trainer or coach out there : put your effort in your circle of influence.

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted January 18, 2011 11:24 am

      Thanks Marcel.

      Control what you can control: planning, training, recovery, preparation, attention to detail, sleep, eating etc etc and you will give yourself the best possible opportunity to realise your potential.


Add your comment or reply. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *