Close Only Counts in Horseshoes

By | November 17, 2020

[November 17, 2020]  In 2003, after the start of the Iraq War, several of my friends attending the U.S. Army War College (AWC) dropped out of the school to go with their unit to Iraq and fight.  It was noble of them to do so, but there was a problem; none were allowed back into the AWC.  As one of them said, close only counts in horseshoes.

He was referring to the fact that he and his friends would never be graduates of the AWC, despite completing about 90 percent of the course.  In the Army, and elsewhere in the U.S. military, almost doesn’t count.  You have to complete a task before you are given any credit.  Like another college friend who completed his entire Doctorate work in Physics but didn’t graduate, he will not be called a doctor or get a job requiring the Ph.D.

“Close doesn’t count in baseball.  Close only counts in horseshoes and grenades.” – Frank Robinson, American baseball player, and manager

I like the Frank Robinson quote, but he is not the first to say it.  With my friends, we used to say close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear bombs.  We were not original but adding the “atomic bombs” piece was entertaining.  From what I can tell, this idiom (minus the atomic bomb reference) originated sometime in the early 1900s.1

Politicians are sensitive to this issue.  A close vote tally makes for some great suspense, yet there is no runner-up prize.  Either the politician is elected or not.  In business, almost landing an account doesn’t mean anything for the company because there is no money involved.  Some informal credit is a learning experience, but there is no win if you are only close.

I’m reminded of many young people I’ve met over the past several decades who believe that their “intent” to do good or they almost graduating somehow gives them something over others.  I don’t think so.  This is no trivial point.  Many young people have not been educated in how the world works and, counter-productively, have been given rewards for not completing a task or winning a game.  “Participation trophies” comes to mind.

What this does, in my opinion, is to dull the motivation to excel.  Motivation to a leader is their bread and butter, it is how they operate, and without it, nothing would get accomplished.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Close Only Counts in Horseshoes

  1. Gil Johnson

    I think most folks understand the analogy being highlighted by Gen. Satterfield but some in other countries may not. I do believe that, however, most will understand that “close” is often not good enough. That is why Gen. Satterfield connects the dots on leadership and not accepting “close enough”. Maybe close is acceptable in some cultures, but not in America or most of the West. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Wilson Cox

    IMHO, this whole idea of rewarding people for not achieving a very specific goal – like graduating from college – is a slippery slope that is difficult to stop. I thought the American people hated welfare, the values of sloth, etc. Maybe I was wrong.

  3. Nick Lighthouse

    “Dull motivation,” yep, I agree. I’ve seen it. Why win? You don’t need to in order to get an award. I was there trophy. Ha Ha Ha Ha…..

  4. Willie Shrumburger

    Hey folks, let’s not overlook a point that Gen. Satterfield made here.
    “I’m reminded of many young people I’ve met over the past several decades who believe that their “intent” to do good or they almost graduating somehow gives them something over others.”
    INTENT is not action. It is only the first step and a required step but it does not mean you have completed your tasks to do good (or evil). You must see it thru.

    1. apache2

      Maybe the link to a lack of motivation is not the right conclusion but a link to a rigid personality is the result.

      1. Eric Coda

        I’m not so sure apache2. Most psychologist believe our personality is generally well formed by 2 to 5 years of age. Anyone can lack motivation. It is now being encouraged in our school systems and by our governments. Just look at all the lockdowns because of this COVID19 pandemic. These dictator-like governors love telling us what to do because we are too ‘stupid’ to know any better and we won’t do anything about it.

      2. Wesley Brown

        Yes, apache2 but there are other perspectives on personality that might contradict your view.

    2. Jerome Smith

      Good points here folks. What about other govts like Russia and China that are pushing the communist ideology right here in the good ole USA? Thru movies, etc. They learned from us how to push an agenda like in film, radio, tv, and in – this is important – in social media.

  5. Kenny Foster

    This is why, I say often, that we should have a better education system that teaches Western, Christian values and not this Marxist garbage. Just look to the tens of millions of deaths (excluding wars) in the 20th century upon which we should have learned out lesson.

    1. Darwin Lippe

      You nailed that one Kenny. Gen. Satterfield has only touched the surface when he says that “close only counts in horseshoes.” There is a much deeper meaning here. It goes to the heart of the world’s growing PC ideology based on a neo-Marxist slant. Dangerous it is and there is little right now that is stopping it.

  6. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Excellent article, Gen Satterfield. Thank you! I sent it to my aunt who lives in Brazil. She’ll like it as well.

  7. JT Patterson

    When we start rewarding “close enough” then we are on the downhill slide in our culture. BUT, that is already happening everywhere. Even college snowflakes are allowed to walk across the graduation stage when not completing all their graduation “requirements” so that they don’t FEEL left out. So much for standards in colleges. What another disgrace.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Poor snowflakes. Ha Ha Ha. I wonder what it’s like being in generation snowflake?

    2. Max Foster

      And now, these ‘snowflakes’ say we are ALL SOCIALISTS. How UNprofound these twits are in their smug moral superiority and their ‘we are better than thou’ perspective on the world. They are all little wanna-be dictators waiting in the wings.

      1. José Luis Rodriguez

        Ouch, well said Max. They do deeply believe they are superior and if we don’t kowtow to their wishes then we should be eliminated (cancelled, shot, hung, whatever).

        1. Max Foster

          Jose and Dennis, thanks for your feedback on my comments. I do think in my humble opinion, of course, that this is a very dangerous trajectory in our youth. They are like the devoted Nazi youth of the 1930s and 40s. They will do anything to destroy those who do not conform to their way of thinking. It took a war and 10million dead to change that.

          1. Tom Bushmaster

            Very interesting and so true. This is scary as well. We must all stand up to these dictators-in-waiting.

        2. Dale Paul Fox

          Great discussion folks. Keep it up. I will only add that the election of Joe Biden (socialist) – assuming Pres Trump’s legal challenge doesn’t hold up – means we will speed more in the Marxist direction here. Sad.

  8. Stacey Borden

    Good background stories to make your point and, thus, well written for us, Gen. Satterfield. A good way to get your point across and to remember it is to remember the stories that go along with it.

    1. Zone for Trump

      Thanks for a wonderful comment. Just what I wanted to say. But let me be clear, I’m no socialist. Nor do I like “close only.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.