Winning and Losing: A Philosophical Analysis

Open Access
Richardson, Brian Kayle
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 13, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Robert Scott Kretchmar, Dissertation Advisor
  • Robert Scott Kretchmar, Committee Chair
  • Linda L Caldwell, Committee Member
  • Douglas Ray Hochstetler, Committee Member
  • Mark Dyreson, Committee Member
  • Karl Maxim Newell, Special Member
  • Zen
  • Buddhism
  • Baseball
  • Winning
  • Losing
  • Competition
  • Philosophy
  • Dichotomy
  • Test
  • Contest
The concept of winning and losing is deeply ingrained in the Western approach to competition. Much of this emphasis on the winning vs. losing dichotomy comes from exponential growth in professional sports and business-oriented intercollegiate athletics. Sports are big business. Now parents of young children are often pushing the win vs. lose concept beginning with teams for very young children through high school sports. This dissertation has three hypotheses: While dichotomous characterizations of sporting achievement enjoy degrees of validity, they are insufficient; these insufficiencies can be shown metaphysically and normatively, and; traditions and practices of Zen Buddhism can be used effectively as a source for rival conceptions of sporting achievement. This study examines winning and losing from a Western perspective by examining dualisms and dichotomies, complementary pairs, and Darwinian roots of dichotomies. Then it examines the nature of sporting tests, test variations and related meanings, test contingencies and related meanings, the complexity and nature of sporting contests, test-contest relationships, and seven types of winning ~ losing. A brief history of Buddhism is presented, followed by a discussion on the four principles of Zen: meditation, mindfulness, moral action, and moral thought. Then Zen principles and practices are translated into sport and movement. The final chapter applies Zen philosophy to coaching youth baseball. Practice and participation guidelines for youth baseball coaches discuss: Zen mysticism, Zen as a high-demand practice, pragmatics, diversity, and self-transformation. It concludes with a case study using a Zen-inspired coaching method on how to field grounders. If coaches stop placing an over-emphasis on winning vs. losing and encourage youth players to experience the game from a holistic, peaceful, and calm Zen approach, the children will begin to also have harmony and oneness with equipment, with their physical ~ mental approach to playing, and experience a self-transformation of seeing baseball without the mental clutter of anxiety or worry about winning vs. losing. By using Zen coaching techniques, children and teens can learn to play the sport for the sake of the experience the game offers, the enjoyment of playing, and for the growth and development Zen and baseball offers in the sport and in life.