There is an epidemic going on in youth sports right now- an epidemic that is sweeping across the country. Day after day, reports of unruly parents at youth athletic events, kids quitting teams because they are scared to lose, children specializing in one sport as early as 5 years old, with goals of getting a scholarship and eventually going pro. How do we fix this problem? Where does it originate? What should the true goal of youth sports be? As these topics are debated, there are some truths that no one can deny.
Winning is NOT everything.
When a child plays a sport or participate in an activity solely to win, there is something wrong. First, children should participate in sports because they are fun, and they get to compete against their friends. Winning is great, and kids should enjoy doing it, but they must also learn that losing is OK to. No one wins everything all the time. One of the greatest things children need to learn is what to do with losing.
What can we learn from a loss? What to do better next time, what we did wrong this time, and how to move on from the loss. We learn sportsmanship, to congratulate the winners, and go back to work so that we do better next time.
If children at a young age aren’t willing to do something because they are afraid of losing (failing), what are we setting them up for in the future?
"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure" - Paul Coelho
Why do you play the game?
As Herm Edwards famously said, “You play to win the game!” He was talking about professional athletes. So why do youth play the game? The answer should be: fun. They should enjoy the experience, win, lose, or draw. Is winning fun? Absolutely. Should winning be put ahead of everything? Absolutely not. Playing games is natural to youth, but the emphasis on winning at all costs, where nothing else matters, is learned behavior. Youth should have fun playing with and against their friends. Trying to make big plays, catch, shoot, score, pull flags, whatever the case may be. They should go out and try to make plays, and have fun doing it. At the end of the game, the question from a parent to a participant should be “did you have fun?” instead of “did you win?”
"Youth sports has become less a tool to educate children about sport and life, and more often a place where parents go to be entertained by their kids" - John O'Sullivan, Changing the Game Project
How do we fix this problem?
There are three groups of people who have the ability to fix this problem:
1. Parents – parents can reinforce before, during, and after the games why their child is playing. “Have fun, compete, do your best!” Those words matter more than “shoot!” “run!” or “get him!” The parent emphasis goes a long way in how the child plays and reacts to what is happening.
2. Coaches – most coaches are volunteers, but coaches need to know how far reaching their influence is. How coaches react to things happening during a game is going to influence how his or her players react. The #1 thing coaches need to remember: if you’re having fun, your players will have fun. Don’t let mistakes impact your mindset, move on to the next play and keep coaching up your kids. STAY POSITIVE!
3. Spectators – we all want the player we are there to see do well. But, its ok if he or she doesn’t. It is also ok if someone on the other team is doing well. One of the most damaging thing that you can do to a young athlete’s psyche is be upset when he or she does well, whether on your team or the opposing. Its ok to be impressed if someone on the other team makes a great play. Screaming “cover him” or “someone stop him” really isn’t helping anyone, no matter how loudly you yell it.
Parents and spectators, your job is to support your team in a positive manner. Let coaches coach, and let the referees do their jobs. They are human, and might make a mistake every now and then.
Little Lakers Athletics was established to provide a way for young aspiring athletes to learn and participate in sports. We want to see development and improvement, and the building of a love for the game. When we lose focus on that, and focus more on winning, or who’s team each player is on, we’re doing each child a disservice.