As the title implies winning isn't everything. In my opinion any coaches out there that truly care about the position they've been assigned (coaching) should agree. The job we've been given isn't about teaching our athletes the ways of winning, but the ways in which to be a better human being.
Winning is a wonderful thing that all of us want to experience as often as possible, but knowing how to lose graciously, how to be a team player (even on individual sports like track), and how to work hard and compete are the most important aspects of being an athlete. Without sports young student-athletes wouldn't learn many lessons that are crucial to being a successful adult.
I remember coaching a young lady many years ago that had numerous issues in the classroom and seemed to be going "nowhere" fast. She wasn't motivated by the classroom, and was even a person we were warned about when she first signed up. She was honestly blind to things like responsibility and respect, but we never once deterred from being her coaches. We never once looked at her like a person with nothing to give. Instead, we gave her an equal opportunity and preached the importance of hard work and dedication. Along with those discussions we also made sure to tell her we were "all in" on being her coaches. We wanted her to know she had adults that "had her back" and that we believed in her. Just this little bit of support led to this athlete falling in love with triple jump, and being one of the hardest workers on the entire team. The most amazing change was in demeanor and approach to her responsibilities in life and not just track. By her senior year she got a job, was passing her classes, and eventually went to college. Track saved her life - plain and simple.
Most of the time we (coaches) don't know what is happening in our athlete's lives outside of the track, gym, or field. We are blind to the many issues they experience at home that lead to being irresponsible in the classroom. We don't see the poor relationships they have with family members and/or peers that push them to make poor choices. We don't see what they go through on a daily basis that impacts their decisions - and we never will. The least we can do is be there for them in a positive and supportive way that will help them to understand we are there for them.
This is why explaining to them that winning isn't everything is so important. The pressures that students experience on a daily basis is something we will never truly be part of or understand, but it's there and unfortunately growing each and every year. What teachers, parents, etc. expect of students continues to grow, and the amount of pressures they feel is only getting worse. So why be the kind of coach that adds to those pressures unnecessarily?
We won't be passing out any "participation" ribbons anytime soon, but the understanding that there are more important things than winning is an important message that must be communicated to athletes. The track team that I coach on has been using that same message for years, and we are currently coaching the most successful track team in school history. For 10+ years our athletes have responded to the old saying of "do your best" and I'm confident any coach that passes along the right messages will experience the same results!