I've been reading, listening, and watching a lot lately about the debate between the human qualities of optimism vs pessimism, altruism vs competitiveness, idealism vs realism. Indeed, these debates have been going on since the beginning of time.

I watched the ABC Special a few weeks called "Adventures of an Incurable Optimist" hosted by Michael J. Fox who has a book by the same title (click here to see the whole 1-hr special). The show talked about why people optimism despite their circumstances and how scientifically it can be proven the positive effects of being optimistic as opposed to being pessimistic.

I read this great article in Ode Magazine talking about how recent research into behavioral economics shows that altruism and not the selfish desire for personal gain is the primary motivating factor.

In terms of coaching style, this debate is basically broken down into the two polar opposite cliches. There are those who believe in winning by any means necessary, and that nice guys finish last. And then there are those who are always referred to euphemistically as "a good coach, but a better person," -- the dreamy optimists who insist their team improved every passing day despite a winless season.

But I think what gets lost in the debate is this kind of oversimplification of human character. For example, we often ask: is it better to be competitive -- to win every drill, every game, every championship? Or is it better to be a better person -- one who is always thinking of the common good? We often think in manichean terms, polar opposites, instead of greys.

Therefore the more fundamental question we should be asking is whether the two are mutually exclusive? That is to say, can we be both competitive and altruistic at the same time? And exactly how do we develop the good qualities of optimism-pessimism, altruism-competitiveness and avoid the bad ones?

The reality is that there are degrees of optimism-pessimism, altruism-competitiveness due to a variety of genetics, social, and cultural factors. And that to be truly successful in coaching or anything in life you need to have a balance. It's important to be optimistic when you are 5-10 because you may lose your players altogether. But its equally important to be pessimistic when you are 20-0 because it keeps you sharp and aware of the situation at all times. I don't think anyone would deny that you must be competitive in order to be successful in coaching, but not so competitive that you are willing to compromise your principles or values. Conversely, you have to be altruistic in order to feel good about what you are doing, but not so altruistic that you allow other people to take advantage you.

As you can probably tell, I think about philosophy a lot and I don't purport to have all the answers but I hope that by having open dialogues on these kinds of topics we can attempt to improve every aspect of ourselves and how we coach. I would definitely like to hear what others have to say about this topic.