It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It turns out that the same can be said for winning (although saying “winning is in the eye of the beholder” doesn’t sound quite as poetic). Traditionally when most of us think of winning, we probably focus on the final score of the contest. Generally, the winners are considered to be only the ones who are on top when the final whistle blows. However, this is not the only possible definition of winning. Winning can also be defined by the quality of the performance of each individual athlete.
The problem with taking the traditional perspective on winning in youth sports is that it is extremely limited, and it can serve to undermine a great performance by someone on the “losing” team. However, if we choose to go with the view that winning is in the eye of the beholder, we open the door to allowing everyone to become a winner, not just one group of people. Here’s an example. Let’s say your child played the best soccer game of her short little life, scoring her very first goal, but her team still lost. If all you focus on is the final score, her brilliant performance means nothing, and she might possibly go away feeling disappointed. However, if you choose to refocus your perspective, and consider effort and how she performed compared to past performances, winning can be something else totally.
I don’t deny that at collegiate and professional levels of sport the final outcome should be important. However, youth sports should be all about fun, learning, and building competence in sport. If all the emphasis is placed on the final score, how does this make the little ones feel who consistently come up short? Will this enhance their fun? Will this help them feel competent? Will this show them that they are learning and improving? No. But what it will help them feel like is losers. And in youth sports there should be no losers. In fact, most children will tell you that having fun and feeling competent are more important to them than winning in its traditional sense (1). Research has also shown that an environment that stresses mastery of skills over competition and social-comparison is more beneficial for elementary-age and adolescent children. This type of environment will help them stay motivated and help build self-confidence (2).
We, the adults, can help prevent youth sports participants from feeling like “losers” and keep the fun in sports by changing our view of winning. We can still keep the traditional meaning of the word in there somewhere, but let’s redefine a winning performance to also mean playing your best. In addition, our new definition of winning should include accomplishing a skill in a game that a child previously had difficulty with. If we allow ourselves to change the way we view winning and focus more on how our own children are performing, then maybe we can prevent some of the maladies that occur in youth sports due to the importance many place on the final score. At the very least we can help keep the fun and excitement in the game for our children.
Further Information on Other Sites
It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose: Quality Sports Programs for Kids – by Penn State University
(1) Siedentop, D. (2001). Introduction to Physical Education, Fitness, and Sport (4th ed). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
(2) Cox, R. H. (2002). Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications (5th ed). Boston: McGraw Hill.