The other week we published a post entitled Is Everyone Really a Winner? The Great Debate of Youth Sports, asking for your opinions on whether or not every athlete in youth sports deserves to be treated like a winner.
Does giving everyone a trophy undermine the value of those who really excel or does it help build confidence in young players? It was great to hear back from all of you (and feel free to add any new thoughts) but one comment from fencing coach Margaret really stood out to me. In her comment she said,
As a fencing coach Ive struggled with how to present the idea of “winning.” I have counseled that winning is not always getting the gold but an individuals “win” within the match when they have attained the goals that they have set for themselves. For a barely skilled new fencer I tell them that their goal is to get one touch on everybody they are up against. Anything more is icing on the cake.
I think she raised a great point about the idea of “winning.” Most sports parents, coaches and the athletes themselves define the winner by the person with the most points/goals/runs at the end of the game. But can you still be a winner on a smaller scale even if you lost the game? Every youth athlete is going to come up against a better team sooner or later in their career and not win. This can be disheartening for a youth athlete, but as Margaret also pointed out,
If you do not push them to excel then the moments when they doubt themselves they will quit instead of digging deep and pushing on.
No coach or parents wants to see youth athlete quit because they doubt themselves or their abilities, but maybe we could do a better job of helping players redefine “winning” so they stay positive and don’t lose their love of the game.
1. Set little goals.
Just like Margaret tells her new players to focus on getting one touch (that counts as a win for new fencers) youth sports coaches should set little goals for their teams, especially for new players. Maybe they won’t go 4-for-4 at bat, but have a baseball player focus on just connecting with the ball and putting it in play.
Even if they don’t make it to first they still achieved their goal. They might have a little extra confidence the next time they step up to the plate.
2. Redefine “winning” on an individual basis.
When coaching older teams, let’s say a U10 soccer team, you might have a few stellar players who have been on a team since they were five or six; you might also have a few players trying out soccer for the first time.
Not every athlete on your team is going to have the same skill level, so it’s important to set individual goals. This helps each player feel like they are contributing to the overall success of the team, and not just coming along for the ride.
3. Don’t judge yourself too harshly by the score.
A lot of youth sports coaches define their success as a coach by how many wins they have under their belt at the end of the season, but that isn’t the only way to measure your success.
If you got a team of new players one season, “winning” is all about teaching them the fundamentals and getting them to work as a team. You might not beat the No. 1-ranked team (full of future high school stars) but if everyone learned something and had a great time while doing it, you did something right.