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Should Winning Be the Focus of Youth Sports?

As a father and a physical education teacher, I have the opportunity to coach many different youth recreation sports. Whether it's football, soccer, baseball, basketball, or gymnastics—one common question permeates every coach’s philosophy.

Should the emphasis of winning be the main focus of youth recreation sports?

This is a question that I have struggled with myself in determining the outcome of any competitive program.

Winning: The Positive

The Focus on Winning

There are positive aspects of placing an emphasis on winning. When evaluating the overall performance of a team or a coach, our society is driven by quantitative results. For example, in high school sports, you are measured by wins and losses.

Winning can increase a teams motivation, efficiency, and morale. Winning can also increase the self-esteem of the individual player. Winning is not by chance. If you want to become the best at anything, you have to dedicate yourself to physical and mental disciplines in order to accomplish a specific end result.

Winning: The Negative

Winning: The Negative

When dealing with younger athletes, the major emphasis or outcome of the program should be player development.

Young athletes are extremely impressionable when developing a competitive attitude towards sports. Subsequently, personal and societal ethics are also being established at this age, if the win-at-all-costs way of thinking prevails at a young age, the child will most-likely compromise his or her ethics.

If winning is everything, an athlete will do anything to win. Secondly, when presented with a seemingly difficult task the emphasis on winning can have an adverse effect on the player. If the athlete conceptualizes the attitude of “why try hard when I know I can’t win,” then motivating the athlete to perform to his or her best potential will be a challenging task.

This type of mindset discourages the player from persevering through trials. The last disadvantage of placing a strong emphasis on winning at a young age is a lack of diverse skill development.

On most sports teams, the individual athlete is in either direct or indirect competition with his or her own teammates. Through inter-team scrimmages or try-outs, the athlete discovers what skills it takes to win the starting position. This can cause trouble in the skill development of a younger athlete due to the fact that he or she develops a narrow set of skills in order to “win” the position on the team. However, when in competition against other teams with different skill strengths the athlete will not possess the ability to change strategies to succeed.


Striking the Right Balance

Winning can and does have its place in any competitive activity. However, if too much importance is placed on winning at a young age then many adverse results can occur.

Skill development and sportsmanship should be the main emphasis of sports below the high school level.

Good coaching, which emphasizes personal improvement and task mastery can make sports and athletics one of the most effective moral tutors available to parents. Youth recreation sports are a great avenue to teach many life skills such as teamwork, dedication, perseverance, responsibility, accountability, and many others. These character traits combined with good skill development will prepare the athlete for the stress of competitive sports and life.


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