Sport is all about winning.

Soccer and footy season is upon us. Mid-week training has started for my boys and there seems to be a pattern emerging.

Last week, during training, my youngest celebrated a goal. Just a young kid wanting to copy his heroes on TV. He ran back to the centre jumping with joy and hugging his friends. I clapped from the side.

Then one of the coaches calls the team together and tells them that it’s not about winning. It’s just about “having fun”.

“Who wins and loses is not important”, he said.

It’s not the first time I have heard this and I don’t agree.  It is an initiative being unveiled to junior football by the AFL this season and there has been recent coverage in the newspapers and on TV.  Another example of kids being mollycoddled and wrapped in cotton wool.

On one hand under 11’s junior footy, which previously had a no tackling rule to prevent injuries, has changed this to a modified tackle.  So while it is ok to physically manhandle an opponent you can’t mentally ‘torture’ one with a win.

Don’t tell me winning is not important. It is. Why would you be playing a competitive sport if you did not want to win. Every player, every child, wants to win. That is a big part of why they are playing.

I don’t understand the thinking behind it. And to be honest it doesn’t really matter. In an age of over sensitive kids we should allow this raw emotion to remain on the ground.  Encourage the passion, stoke the fire. Build that will to win.

For goal scorers and team wins the coaches should be teaching the distinction between confidence and arrogance. Talk about humility in victory and graciousness in defeat.  Remind them of the winning feeling – use that to encourage when they lose. Don’t take away the win or the loss.

Coaches and trainers are laying down the foundation for these boys and girls. I will be a trainer and a volunteer umpire this year and while I will get some things wrong our directive is to use common sense and umpire in the ‘spirit of the game.’ If playing to win is not in the spirit then I don’t know what is. Should I discourage the celebrations after a goal, curb the cheers and hugs? No. I will be encouraging them to enjoy their moment and positively reinforcing the other team to keep trying. We have direction to bolster their confidence, actively encourage and help all players get involved in the game.

Individual achievement or goal scoring, is an important part of the team. It brings players together. It makes a team and the individual stronger.

Do you think David Beckham’s coach told him that winning wasn’t  important? That Lee Matthews told his boys that the result did not matter? Of course not.

If you hold back a kid or stop the team celebrating then you are in danger of breaking their competitive spirit.

Teach them that winning is very important. As is losing. That in order to win a match, hard work and commitment is required.  When you lose discuss the ways to improve. Scoring goals is the name of the game.

Teach them that each goal scored is not just the effort of one player, but the effort of the team. That the positioning of the players and the consideration of others are all reasons why that goal was just scored. Reinforce that the training drills practiced earlier in the session helped with that goal. Congratulate them on putting all these skills together and doing what they are meant to do.

Erika Carlson is a Sports Psychology Consultant and Owner of Excellence in Sport Performance and she has outlined  4 sports skills that can be transferred to life:

Understanding commitment:  No matter how much you love sports, if you play long enough there will inevitably be days that you’d rather not be there to train or practice.  Athletes learn how work through these days and perform despite low motivation.  One of the distinguishing factors between good athletes and great athletes is that great athletes can play through days of low motivation better than most.  Effort always trumps talent.

Defining Success:  Athletic success can be defined many ways, the most obvious is through wins and losses.  However, as most seasoned athletes can tell you, success is often defined by goals of personal performance standards or team performance standards.  Ask any experienced athlete, when do you learn more?  During an easy win or a loss where you played well but were beaten?  Success can be defined many ways, the longer you play sports, the more you come to understand this.

Setting and Achieving Goals:  There are the inherent goals within a competition, to win or do your best, but truly setting goals is much more complex than that.  Long-term goals, short-term goals, daily goals, performance goals, and outcome goals all need to be part of the plan.  Successful competitive athletes bring goals to the forefront of their attention.  Motivation research tells us over and over again that when kids understand why they are doing a drill and how it relates to their bigger goals, like winning a game, they are much more likely to buy-in and increase their work ethic.

Overcoming obstacles: Life will inevitably throw us some curve balls that we are expected to deal with.  Getting through the daily grind of training, competing and continually fine tuning skills and performance teaches athletes a great deal.  However, toss in some injuries, questionable coaching, difficult teammates, some bad calls by refs, getting cut from the team, low motivation and some exceedingly high expectations to fulfill, welcome to the lower half of the love/hate relationship with sports.  Overcoming obstacles is not easy, often not fun, but fortunately loaded with life lessons.

Competing in sports at any age can be very challenging.  It should also be fun.  Make the effort to help your kids get the most out of their sport experience by using adversity to learn skills to last a lifetime.

4 thoughts on “Sport is all about winning.

  1. Spot on Rob!!! The entire concept that “everyone is a winner” is absolute rubbish. Sport just like life has winners and losers and whilst having fun is the most important thing it is no more important than learning how to be a good sport and learning how to be gracious in both victory and defeat. The absurdity that the AFL thinks that by removing scoreboards “and thus winners” is somehow going to make all things equal is nonsense and clearly some new age mumbo-jumbo thought up by some “academic” who feels a need to justify their own position.
    Removing winners and losers will not get rid of the “ugly parents” that plaugue junior sport but the issue is to educate and punish those parents that transgress the boundaries of sportsmanship rather than “dumb down” the game.
    Sport by its very nature relies on the desire to win and this does not mean a “win at all costs” attitude, it is only a game and they are only kids but don’t kill off the thrill competition.
    I would encourage every child to enjoy and savour a win, and feel a bit of pain from a loss but most importantly learn from the experience and remember it is just a game. If a parent takes more joy or pain form the result than the child then you have a problem!
    Bring back the scoreboards and all that goes along with it

  2. Great post. Love your take on it. I think it’s political correctness in sport going too far once again. Nothing wrong with competition. It’s more the attitude people have to competition that can be either positive or negative. But people are never going to learn how to handle it positively if we stamp out competition altogether.
    I wonder about the balance between winning is everything vs winning isn’t everything. I wouldn’t say winning is everything. In a way yes, but I think the things you mention are more important like fair play, humility, grace, overcoming obstacles, etc. In the context of competition these things can be learnt. Hmm, got me thinking.
    May I reblog your post?

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