Youth Sports-Winning Is Important

I am an avid Seinfeld fan.  I probably have seen every Seinfeld episode, and thanks to TBS, probably multiple times.  Hardly a day goes by where something doesn’t happen that reminds me of a Seinfeld episode.  One episode that sticks with me places Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer at a party in an apartment in NYC.  The party takes place during the NYC Marathon, where attendees cheer on runners as they pass by.  As the episode closes, a woman at the party (possibly the apartment owner) yells, “You’re all winners!”

I think we all understand what she meant; that everyone that participates in such a grueling event should be applauded for even making the effort.  But, they’re not all winners.  In reality, a marathon has two winners; the top finishing male and top finishing female.  Yes, I understand some races may honor ‘winners’ at different age groups; but again, there is one male winner and one female winner.

I feel like there is a lot of dialogue in today’s society about the dangers of over-emphasizing the priority we place on winning, when we should be more concerned about making sure the kids have fun.  We tell our kids, “Don’t worry about winning or losing, just go out and have fun.”  And I don’t think this is isolated to sports.  I feel like this attitude is now being reflected in schools, on playgrounds and even in our homes.

First, let me discuss the idea of ‘fun’.  In a previous blog, I cited an ESPN study that looked at why kids are quitting sports.  The #1 reason was because they were not having fun.  They didn’t dive deeper into what ‘fun’ is; so we are left to decipher the meaning of fun.  For me, kids have fun when they get better at what they do.  You improve the skills of a player and they have more success.  The more success they have, the happier they become.  The happier they are, the more they want to do it.  I think too many coaches, especially coaches for younger kids (ages 6-9) view ‘fun’ as kids laughing and having a good time by playing games and clowning around.  I see many coaches giving points to kids if they hit a ball up the middle or on the ground.  They may have relay races as a warm-up.  Both of which are fun; but they don’t get the kids better.  A kid can display poor mechanics hitting and still hit a ball up the middle.  Kids can have poor running form while running a relay race.  Yes, they’re having fun, but its not getting them better.  Placing an emphasis on having a good time will not get the kids better.  And in the end, these kids will still quit.  Why?  Because as they get older, they won’t get better.  And they won’t want to play a game where your every mistake, error, strike-out, etc is seen by everyone in attendance at the game.  And I don’t know a single person who wants to continue with something where they repeatedly struggle.

Now, let’s focus on why winning IS important.

In our locker room at Wake Forest, we had a sign above the door that led to the dugout that read, “First Step to Omaha.”  That was our goal every season, to get to the College World Series.  Every practice was a chance to get us there.  Every practice, we had a goal to get better so we could have a chance to play for the World Series.  The same should be true for youth sports.  If your league has a championship, your team’s goal should be to win the championship.  And the mindset for everyone at practice should be to make sure the effort and drills are leading the team to that goal.  If each player gives their best and most sincere effort, the team is not guaranteed the end prize.  But what it will do is get each kid better.  And remember, getting better will yield more smiles from kids as they’ll find themselves striking out less and fielding more balls.  And if the team finds themselves in a position where they can’t win that championship, you need to realign the focus.  Focus could now be set on winning each remaining game.  Different goal, but same mindset at practice.  The goal of winning establishes a sense of purpose for your practices.

Now let’s look at the other end of the winning-losing spectrum, which is losing.  Losing can teach us so much, especially when we start to analyze why we lose.  No one likes to lose.  I haven’t met anyone that says, “boy, I hope we lose today.”  Good Coaches for teams that lose spend time discussing why they lost.  Maybe it was poor defense.  Maybe it was because they only got two hits.  Maybe the focus was poor.  You lose for a reason.  And it’s important to understand why you lose so you can try to prevent it from happening again.  At the youth level, we need to get our kids thinking along these lines.  Ask them why they think you lost.  Get them understanding that your team should, at practice, focus on those things that will get them in the win column.  But, if you’re not focused on winning.  If you’re really just focused on having fun, then its going to be hard for you to get the kids caring as to why they lost.

Getting the kids interested in winning; and hating to lose, can better prepare them for their future.  It instills in them a sense of competitiveness that they will need as they grow older.  Because when they grow older, life becomes a series of competitions.  Sales Professionals compete for a client’s business.  Job Applicants compete for a position at a company.  And each and every day, businesses compete for revenue.  So why not get the kids prepared for what they will experience?  And if you don’t want them to place an emphasis on winning, when should they?  How do we define the age in which winning should be a focus in our children’s lives?

And one last thought for parents and coaches.  Let’s say you communicate to your team that “it’s not about whether we win or lose, but whether you have fun.”  What happens when you lose a bunch of games?  Are you going to be ok with it?  I’ve seen coaches, who have tried to de-emphasize the importance of winning and losing, become very frustrated when they lose more than they care for.  They become frustrated and the fact that they do want to win begins to show.  Kids will see this and your original intentions now become questioned.  You know you want to win.  It’s going to be hard to keep up the “hey it’s about having fun” mantra if you continue to lose.

Do your players a favor and make winning a goal.  Teach them the attitude and the work ethic that helps create winners.  Teach them how they can learn from losing.  And do this at a young age.  The younger they are exposed to these things, the better the impact will be on them as they grow older.




Don’t Let Age Dictate What You Teach

“If you don’t challenge yourself, you will never realize what you can become.”

A recent Squad Locker blog touched on inspiring and motivating youth sports, with a focus on baseball. The writer discussed several topics, that we’ll quickly run through. Coaches should not swear at their kids…ok, that’s pretty obvious. Coaches should display patience when their kids can’t perform certain skills…ok, again, pretty obvious but I can understand some coaches lose patience and become frustrated. But, coaches should display patience. Coaches should not pick favorites…I agree with the writer on this one. It’s very easy to ‘run’ with the elite players on your team as they will likely be your biggest assets as you try to win. But, you need to teach the game to ALL players, good or bad. Coaches should inspire with attitude…definitely agree on this point. Kids feed off your attitude and your passion. You need to be ‘on’ each game and every practice. Never let up mentally as your attitude can help turn a kid’s performance around in a heartbeat.

There is one area that the writer covered that I just can’t seem to agree with, and one that others make; one that I routinely see repeated over and over. And that is that young kids should not be taught complicated plays or skills. The writer says to stick with the KISS methodology (Keep it Simple Son) as kids “don’t have the concentration that you do and besides, most of them are out more for a good time than to be learning about complex plays.” Statements like this frustrate me to no end.

First, I do believe that kids need to show a consistent execution of the basic skills before you move on to any of the advanced, or more complicated, skills. However, your lesson plans should never be dictated by a player’s age. They should be dictated by what they can execute; what they will use in games; and where you feel they need additional work. If a 6 year old can cleanly field a ball with a proper approach, a solid base, and proper footwork to throw to first; go ahead and teach the kid a backhand. Why not?

Second, I do agree that kids are there to have fun and a good time. But, as we addressed in a previous blog, kids have fun when they are doing well and getting better. Most kids that I have interacted with (and it’s a high number) want to get better. They don’t want to swing and miss. They don’t want to drop balls. They want to learn the techniques that will get them better. So, work with them on perfecting the basics; then address the more complicated skills. Imagine how much fun a young boy will have when they can show off a proper backhand flip, or a proper sacrifice bunt. A goal when teaching kids should not be that you want them to have more fun. A goal should be to have them execute the basics so you can teach them more advanced techniques. You’ll then see them making more contact, catching more balls, and throwing with more accuracy. When this happens, they will assuredly have fun.

Third, I have been in countless meetings in my business life. And I can remember PLENTY of times where someone (or multiple people) were not paying attention and lost concentration. It was always funny to see someone get called out for not paying attention. They can’t answer a question because they had no idea what was being discussed. So, I don’t agree with the statement that kids “don’t have the concentration that you do.” Anyone, whether 6 or 36, will lose concentration if the presenter, or coach, doesn’t ‘win’ their attention. Demonstrate enthusiasm and demand focus, and you will get it. And when kids focus, their ability to adopt new techniques is high.

We currently offer over 40 drills in our drill library. For each drill, we recommend an age level. This recommendation is not based on whether we believe kids can or cannot execute the drill; rather, we recommend age levels because kids of a certain age may not need to learn a particular skill. For example, I don’t see a good reason to teach a 7 year old catcher blocking skills because runners their age cannot move forward on a wild pitch. But, if time permits, and the kid can demonstrate proper stances, hey, I won’t turn down the opportunity to teach them.

Our belief is that kids, regardless of age group need to be challenged. It helps build character. If they are executing basic skills, challenge them to learn more. If they fail, so what. They need to learn to keep pushing forward and not to quit. Don’t hold back just because you think they are too young. Encourage them to keep working. Support them as they strive to get better. Challenging them, and challenging them properly, will help mold them into better kids, and properly prepare them to challenge themselves as they get older.