We coaches play games.
Two types of games.
James Carse wrote about those two games at length in his book, Finite and Infinite Games, A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility.
He details how those games are the essence of what every coach does, and has done, since the first coach started hollering.
Understanding these two games can have a significant impact on:
- how you coach
- how well you coach
- how long you coach
- the enjoyment you derive from your coaching
The Finite Game
The first game is called the Finite Game. It is played for the purpose of winning. Bluntly, the Finite Game IS the sport we coach.
The goal of the Finite Game is to win, to score the most points, be the fastest, strongest, toughest. Be the top.
Someone wins and everyone else does not.
In the Finite Game:
- there are rules
- there is a time limit
- it is played out on a defined area, within boundaries
- the people who participate choose to do so.
For many coaches playing the Finite Game is what attracts us to coaching. And as coaches we are usually judged by our Finite Game results.
The second game is different. Quite different.
The Infinite Game
The purpose of the Infinite Game is development. The goal of an Infinite Game is to move people and things forward to a better future.
It is plain. It is simple.
In an Infinite Game:
- there really are no rules
- no time limit
- it is played out everywhere, at anytime, any place
- improvement is the name of the game, and this game never stops
Why should you care about Finite and Infinite Games?
Several reasons why, but let’s look at two of the most critical:
First, the goals of the two games, because they are different, can cause great conflict.
Players in Finite Games want to win, everything else is secondary.
Players in Infinite Games want development—the win may be important but more often than not the win is meaningless.
And that’s the conflict so many coaches stumble on—those goals can be at odds.
For example: one of your stars is in your office the day before the big game.
“Coach, there is a speaker coming to campus this afternoon. I really want to attend the talk. This could help me get my dream job next year. I need to miss practice today.”
A Finite Game playing-coach blows up.
An Infinite Game playing-coach says,
I am not suggesting either response is best for you and your situation, but knowing about the two games can help a coach find a way forward while staying true to him or herself, helping the athlete, and being positive.
The second reason you should care is in addition to the internal conflict that can be generated, external conflict also can arise.
If you are an Infinite Game playing-coach (development is more important than winning) and you coach for an organization that is Finite Game focused, you are facing a rocky road. One possibly littered with deep and dark potholes.
What To Do?
The Wild World of Coaching Sports can be a wonderful place yet there are dangers and hazards.
Knowing what lurks in the dark corners, what surprises can jump out to scare you, the difficulties that can arise, is critical.
Knowing about the two types of games coaches play can make coaching more enjoyable, and help you be a better coach.
Something to think about, and Carse’s book might be a worthwhile read if you plan on staying in coaching any length of time.
As you might guess, conflict can arise when coaches play both games, intentionally or not.