You may think there is no difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. They sound similar, but think back to the last game you witnessed in which a team mounted a furious comeback to win. The winning team played more aggressively and took more risks to come from behind. Essentially, they played to win. The team that originally held the lead changed their focus and played cautiously, not to lose.
By the end of the game, the team playing to win caught up with and surpassed their opponents. What seemed unlikely earlier in the game became a reality: a come-from-behind victory. (See 4 Rules for Playing Your Best in Clutch Situations.)
There is a huge difference. You don't want to be on a team playing not to lose. So here are some tips for playing to win.
Maintain your competitive edge
Players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant made careers by getting their opponents down and keeping them down. You can emulate them by playing with aggressiveness, confidence and energy from start to finish. That means practicing sport-specific skills, improving strength and conditioning, following proper nutrition and getting adequate rest. All are essential.
Take calculated risks
You can't stop driving to the hoop or throwing the football if that's what your game plan calls for. Stick to your game plan, but be flexible. You can do this by becoming a student of the game and taking note of your opponent's trends and tendencies. Use this information to your advantage when the opportunity presents itself.
Defend when appropriate, but don't stop attacking
Play smart, but always continue putting pressure on your opponent. Work hard on defense to deny your opponent's progress. On offense, resist the temptation to play it safe when you have a lead.
Don't make excuses
You're going to miss shots, and you may not convert every third down play. However, be personally accountable, and don't get caught up in the "blame game." Learn from your mistakes and make necessary adjustments. Understand your strengths and weaknesses and work to improve your strengths and cure your weaknesses.
Take advantage of opportunities
Don't stop exploiting opportunities in the interest of protecting your lead. Find the "holes" in your opponent's game and use them to your advantage. If it's there, go for it.
Play the game based on where you want to be, not where you are
If you've scored 50 first-half points, try to score another 50 in the second half. Your goal should be to win every inning or period.