Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Thane Yost and the will to win

Not a Thane
Department of weird attributions: many post-2000 me-too inspirational books, and tens of thousands of web pages, have the quotation "The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare" attributed to a "Thane Yost". It sounds like a character out of SF/fantasy, and a quick Google finds no such person. What is going on?

There are a number of variants (see Google and Google Books). To cut to the chase, more detailed Googling finds the real attribution is to the American football player and coach Fielding H Yost (1871-1946, nicknamed 'Hurry Up' Yost). There's a good secondary citation to a Boys' Life magazine article, in which the University of Michigan coach Bennie Oosterbaan recalls Yost's influence ...
He used to say that good sportsmanship was the golden rule in action. I remember such expressions as ... 'the will to win is worthless without the will to prepare to win.'
- Michigan's Oosterbaan, Irving Crump, Boys' Life, Nov 1950, page 31
... and another in a memorial publication:
"The will to win is worthless without the will to prepare to win."
- attributed to Yost in Magazine of Sigma Chi, Volume 67, Issue 1 (Fielding H. Yost, 1871-1946, Memorial Issue), 1948, page 60
There's also an older general corroboration that this was one of Yost's catchphrases:
He stated that we must give to get and that boys must be given the will to prepare to win else they would have nothing.
- Yost, quoted at Boy's Club Federation Banquet, May 19th 1929, Hamtramck Public School Bulletin, Volume 3, 1929, page 223
But when and how did Yost get elevated to historical Scottish minor royalty?

A skim of Google Books hits finds one outlier to Forbes magazine in 1979 (Volume 123, page 98) - though you can't trust Google Books metadata without verification. Otherwise there's no clue to an origin. I didn't realise that "Thane" is a US given name - see Wikipedia, Thane (disambiguation) - and maybe someone misread a juxtaposition in text between Yost and someone called Thane. Whatever happened, the citation to the nonexistent "Thane Yost" has now propagated widely, and like many other garbage attributions on the Internet, it looks here to stay.

Addendum: Yost's aphorisms are distinctly formulaic. Another one cited in the Oosterbaan article - "It takes more backbone than wishbone to get anywhere" - is distinctly reminiscent of The Spinx's "You must be like the wolf pack... not like the six-pack" in Mystery Men. Then again, I'm sure The Spinx's slogans were satirising the motivational aphorisms of sports coaching.

- Ray

1 comment:

  1. Sounds a bit like the older Methodist-ish "prepared to live, prepared to die" thing. Parents and Their Children Meeting at the Day of Judgment (1811) blames that on "the amiable and pious Cowper", but I can find no trace, apart from formulations such as "Whether I live or die, I desire it may be in His Glory, and it must be to my happiness", which I guess could be traced back a lot further.