There is something about us which makes us want to see things as black or white. Our approach to youth sports, or minimally to why we want our children to play, is no different. Look around and you see people pushing singular objectives for youth sports. One person tells you youth sports should be all about fun. The next says no, they should be about player development. Another, wrong again, they should be about life lessons. Yet another, well, maybe that’s not it, but whatever the right answer is, they should definitely not be about winning. Shouldn’t youth sports be about all of the above?
Much better writers have described these, but in a nutshell:
They are called games after all. If we’re not having fun, what’s the point of playing? If your kid is having fun, the more likely she is to fall in love with the game and want to be there and down the road be willing to put in the hard work the game demands. And she’s going to play better. If your kid isn’t having fun, he’s not going to want to play for long. Even at practice, particularly at practice, where the hard work happens, there has to be an element of fun.
Your kid needs to get better or his window to play is going to close quickly. This is true even for the best players. In some sports the fundamentals are table stakes. If you’re not mastering the basics you have no chance. Skating in hockey is an example and I’d argue technical skills in soccer are the same. Moreover, the pride, the satisfaction, the self-esteem, call it whatever you like, which comes from being able to do something she couldn’t do before only helps to reinforce the hard work ethic and boost the fun factor.
Sports teach your kid so many lessons he will take with him into adulthood. Learning how to be part of a team, learning how to win and lose or even the fact there are winners and losers, learning while it may be “unfair”, not everyone is treated the same are a few which come to mind. No kid is playing sports because of the lessons they teach, but those lessons will have the longest impact, remaining with your child long after she’s stopped playing no matter what level she reaches.
This one seems to be contentious though I do not understood why. The kids want to win; it’s fun and it feels goods. Their sport is likely the first thing they deeply care about so winning is a huge deal to them. Winning helps reinforce the idea hard work pays off. And, whether we like it or not, winning and losing is the way the world works.
My only wonder is why we need youth sports to be about one thing. These are all no-brainer objectives for youth sports. At least they ought to be. The key is striking a balance and not prioritizing any one over the others. You don’t want a coach who is so focused on winning they are willing to resort to bush-league plays or to playing the top-nine every inning of every game. There’s no fun in sitting in the bench and it’s not helping your kid improve. But you don’t want a coach whose sole objective is your kid having fun because she’s not likely to get a whole lot better. If you’re only focused on one, you are closing the window on the length of time your kid will play which only shortchanges what he will take with him when the games end. When I hear a coach or program director say the objectives are A or B or C or D, I know it’s not the program for my kids. I want a coach who’s thinking about all of the above. My kids deserve it.