Mark Landers (left) and Rob Rose, both teachers and coaches in Glastonbury, founded The Winning Difference, a set of principles that are now being used worldwide.
Mark Landers and Rob Rose wanted to find a way to impact the lives of athletes that extended beyond the normal X’s and O’s of the game.
So 18 months ago, the longtime teaching and coaching colleagues founded The Winning Difference—a set of principles “designed to help develop better athletes, but more importantly, to help develop better people.”
“It started when we were looking at what the culture of youth sports has been like over the past few years. There was a growing anxiety and stress towards winning and it didn’t matter at which level,” said Landers. “We wanted a way to recognize the athletes that are participating in these sports for doing the right things.”
Rose added, “We started researching to see what we could use for our own teams and we found bits and pieces, but couldn’t find what we really wanted. Ultimately we said—if we can’t find it, let’s try and make it.”
The Smith Middle School teachers, who both coach at the high school, originally designed the program as a teaching tool for their teams and for the athletes locally, but what they soon discovered was that there was a need nationally and beyond.
The Winning Difference is now averaging 600,000 daily online impressions worldwide and is picking up social media followers by the thousands. As of Monday, the organization's Twitter account has over 28,000 followers.
Both founders say they have been “shocked” by how the original brainstorming session is stretching across the globe.
The Winning Difference is based on ten major principles that make up an acronym for D.I.F.F.E.R.E.N.C.E: Discipline, Integrity, Focus, Fortitude, Effort, Respect, Enthusiasm, No Excuses, Communication, and Execution.
By using these 10 character-building fundamentals, the organization is striving to make “sports about developing winners, not just about winning.”
“You see Steph Curry winning and Steph Curry celebrating, and you start to think that is what sports really is, but you don’t get to see him at the gym at 5 a.m. or the amount of work that he is putting in,” stated Landers. “You see the end of the journey, but you don’t see the process it takes to get there, and we really wanted to focus on the process.”
Whether it’s the star player to the last person off the bench, the duo’s primary focus is about building a winning culture—on and off the field.
Rose said it is often those role players that make the difference, adding, “We were missing those kids because it started to be about winning or being recognized as the best player rather than the best player for the team. Those other kids started to leave the sport.”
According to the NCAA, around eight million student athletes participate in high school sports with only around 6% continuing their athletic career at a Division I, II, or III collegiate level, and far less making it professionally.
“These are skills and characteristics that they learn can apply at the next level, no matter what field they go into,” stated Rose. “We’re not all going to be the CEO of a company, but we can all play a role and star in that role.”
On the organization’s website and social media platforms, there are videos, resources, and useful information for implementing these difference makers. The videos originally featured former players from Glastonbury talking about the principles and it now has branched out to players and coaches from all over.
Landers and Rose also do speaking engagements, recently talking to 100 student athletes from 10 different schools in Massachusetts. In January, the pair will be speaking at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia.
Through these speaking engagements, Landers and Rose have discovered that no team is too big or too small for these beneficial teachings. Coaches from the youth level to National Champion Division I college athletics have discovered The Winning Difference.
The past year and a half have been a whirlwind for the two teachers, who first met two decades years ago at Smith Middle School.
Landers spotted Rose in school and made him an offer or demand, depending on who you ask.
Rose joked that Landers came through the office “like a tornado” and asked—“Do you coach soccer?”
Rose replied “Yes” with Landers responding, “Good, you’re my JV coach; I’ll talk to you later.”
Since then the two have formed a great friendship and now a foundation of teaching that is being used by countless coaches and athletes.
Landers, who won eight state championship as the boys’ soccer coach at Glastonbury High School and now coaches the girls soccer team at the school, says he has athletes that have gone on to play in college that reach back out to him and are excited that their college coach shared a video or teaching principle directly from The Winning Difference.
Rose added that the process has made him a better coach and one of the most rewarding things has been seeing parents of student athletes sharing the videos.
“As coaches we know time is tough, so let us be the resource,” added Rose.
Both added that the support of the Glastonbury school system has been tremendous and hope to continue teaching the principles of The Winning Difference to benefit the lives of athletes both near and far.
“We want them to keep playing for the love of the game. And what that truly means is not the love of winning and losing, but love of being a good teammate and person,” said Landers. “The beauty of the lessons is that any of the principles can be done regardless of skill level or talent.”
For more information or to contact the organization, visit thewinningdifference.org or follow @thewinningdiff1 on Twitter.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin