The Physical Movement, Leadership: The Importance of Winning at All Costs in Youth Sports and Its Impact on Participation.

Our youth sports culture dictates that winning is the most important thing. It is probably why the drop out rate is so high after 13 and 14 years old. Let's explore what coaches can do about it.

I have had the good fortune of coaching over many decades in multiple different sports and situations.  From elementary school track meets and volleyball/soccer tournaments to high school football, baseball and basketball.  

It always amazes me the emphasis put on the outcome of the games.  The outcome of the games being the most important area of focus by coaches, players and parents.  The mood of a community for a few days determined by the outcome of a Friday night game.  It is the competitive nature of our culture that dictates that winning is the most important thing.  It is probably also why the drop out rate in youth sports is so high after 13 and 14 years old.

In fact, the Washington Post shared an article that according the National Youth Sports Alliance, 70% of youth left competitive sports by the age of 13.

The article lists a number of reasons why kids would leave, but perhaps the 2 biggest ones I have experienced is that they are not longer having fun, and the pressure to win.

As my son went through minor baseball for example, only a couple from his 14 year old team went on to play at any level at 17 and 18.

Our culture very much eliminates the opportunity for older kids to play if they are not at the highest level. When you combine that with less opportunities for non structured play, then physical development time stops. I would argue that the pressure to win at all costs plays a big role in that decision to leave. The pressure to win means some kids play a lot more than others.  The pressure to win means that skill development opportunities are skewed to those on the higher end of the spectrum.

John Wooden, the famous basketball coach and teacher defines success as the piece of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.   

How many of us coaches have used that as the definition of success with our teams.

As a coach is someone who prepares and teaches an individual or team for a special event.  The art of preparation not only includes the physical but also the mental.  Part of the mental preparation is to define what defines being successful in competition.

Too many coaching decisions in youth sports are focused on outcome rather than the journey.

According to Wooden, it was Cervantes who said that the journey is better than the end.

It is a fascinating journey to take a few minutes to study the coaches who have received lots of positive feedback on their role in development.  John Wooden is one of those coaches who seemingly held very strong values in his coaching.

The simple 3 rules for example, of never being late, no profanity, and never criticizing a teammate are not complicated and at the root of a group of people working towards a common goal.  The profanity rule in itself is a standard that modern day coaches could do with supporting.   

Youth sports are a great opportunity to build life and physical skills. To learn about work ethic and practice and discipline. About dealing with disappointment of losing and the exuberance of winning. Most importantly, youth sports provide an opportunity for us coaches to provide the context where these lessons can be learned and applied. They can be a critical asset in developing our future generations into good citizens.

Sometimes, a sense of perspective on what success is and the importance of the journey can make this task a little simpler and more realistic. Who knows, it may keep some kids participating a little longer than 13.

Here is a TED talk from John Wooden in 2001 that speaks well of his philosophy.

This should be a pre-requisite for all youth coaches at the beginning of each season.