Winning shouldn’t be the focus

If there’s one thing that can define the athletic world it’s the nature of competitive nature. The goal in competition being win always. In some cases that can mean winning at all costs. While that may be the focus at the highest levels of competition this notion has permeated deeply into the world of youth sports.

What’s been unfortunate to see is that in the development of youth the main focus for too long has been on winning rather than actual learning and development. For some athletes, and certainly far too many coaches, the goal is to win; regardless of what’s actually happening on the field of play. If you win that’s what matters. I’d argue that the people who believe in this line of thinking do more to hurt their athletes than help. There should be more emphasis placed on learning through competition without maintaining the focus on wining at all costs.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m competitive and played at high levels in a number of sports in my time. However, as I’ve gotten older my competitive sense has evolved. I’d rather play a competitive game where I win or lose by a close margin than be blown out or blow out another team. Yet when you look at the framework for most youth sports the goal is to glean the best players from a region to form top level teams that spend much of their time traveling out of the area. Instead of building teams that have varied levels of skill thus improving overall level of competition.

Having developed a number of recreation-based leagues and events I get a lot of questions on this topic. The issues that come up are focused around the level of overall play. How teams are balanced to improve the overall competitive nature of games. This is a really important piece to building a league and one that many organizations omit. My focus has been on developing as level a playing field as possible. If needed I’ll break up teams that dominate in favor of creating competitive balance.

What this does in the long term is keep people interested in the game. If people are engaged, having fun, and meeting their competitive interests they will stick around. In addition they’ll spread the word, which helps your program. This involves a lot of education and a willingness to create a culture that helps and grows what’s happening on the field. At the youth levels if the focus is on building a complete athlete, but also simply engaging more kids at all levels they will likely build lifelong skills, and long term fans of the game. I’d argue that’s the good for everyone involved.