Winning Isn’t Everything

How many times have you heard this conversation?

Child: “I had a game today.”

Adult: “Did you win?”

Winning Isn’t Everything

We’ve all heard exchanges similar to this. The response is seldom` “Did you have fun?” or “Tell me about something you did during the game you were proud of.” Winning is always the focus, so much so that over the past two decades, researchers have found that poor sportsmanship and acts of aggression have become commonplace in youth sports. Cheating has also become more accepted, with coaches giving their star players the most playing time in order to ensure the win. Parents and fans accept this and even support it. They boo opponents (both parents and players alike) or berate officials like they see done during professional games.

The win-at-all-costs mindset of professional sports has pushed its way into youth sports. But adults frequently forget that they are fundamentally different things. Professional sports are an entertainment business, while youth sports are supposed to be about education and human development.

There is tremendous pressure put on children to perform well, with hopes they’ll make elite teams and ultimately receive college scholarships. Are parents hoping for their child to fulfill his/her own dreams, or are they simply focused on fulfilling their own childhood aspirations? In most cases, it’s the latter.

The Downside of Pushing For the Win

Probably the most serious indictment of the current youth sports system comes from the statistic that the vast majority of youths ― approximately 70 to 80 percent ― will drop out of sports shortly after middle school. Sports simply become too competitive and selective, and they stop being fun.

Winning feels good, but success does not breed success. It is failure, which breeds success. For many youth coaches, by NOT focusing on it, winning becomes a byproduct of everything else they are doing: working on fundamentals and basic skills, encouraging players at every level, and helping players to develop a lifelong love of sports.

Even Superstars Fail

If you think most sport superstars only have wins on their stat sheets, think again. Consider the careers of these successful athletes who became better athletes because they failed:

  • Babe Ruth struck out 1,333 times. Between strikeouts, he hit 714 home runs.
  • Tennis great Martina Navratilova lost 21 of her first 24 matches against opponent Chris Evert. She committed to hitting more freely on the big points and beat Evert 39 out of their next 57 matches. Navratilova went on to win a record 9 Wimbledon singles titles. No woman tennis pro has ever won as many matches or as many tournaments as Navratilova.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his junior high school basketball team, before becoming a sports icon.

Youth sports should be about giving young athletes a positive, character-building experience, not about developing the next generation of major league athletes, but rather developing exceptional people.

Youth sports should be about giving young athletes a positive, character-building experience, not about developing the next generation of major league athletes, but rather developing exceptional people.

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