Somewhere between the Participation Trophy and the extreme emphasis society places on “Having Fun” – many children are at risk of not developing a strong INNER-DESIRE TO WIN. I’m not saying these children don’t want to do well – that they don’t want to get an “A”- that they aren’t willing to work hard at something. I’m not talking about time commitment, working with a personal trainer or staying up until midnight finishing homework. I’m not necessarily making reference to the Entitled Generation we hear so much about (well, maybe I am).
It’s not about any of that.
This is about developing, within our older children, their personal desire to WIN. Developing our children’s desire to crush the competition and to beat their opponent while giving them little peace of mind – in order to secure a victory.
Is this making you uncomfortable? Are you imagining how the other team would feel if your child’s team beat them 8-0? This isn’t the scenario I am referring to.
It’s not about a team victory – it’s about a personal victory – “winning.”
How can we instill in our older children the desire to “meg” someone each time they are playing 5 vs. 2? That’s “winning.”
How do we create a mentality within our children when they play 7 vs. 7 in training so the moment the whistle blows they instinctually want to rally their team, intentionally cause chaos with their unabashed efforts, beat someone 1 vs. 1 and defend with ferocity. That’s “winning.”
Erik Imler is a former U.S. Youth National Team Coach, U.S. Olympian, Collegiate National Champion and currently owner of the popular CantPassCantPlay.com soccer blog. Erik touched on this phenomenon in a post entitled: “The Hate to Lose.” In this post he discusses the concern he felt while coaching at a College ID Camp because the athletes were seemingly going through the motions. He discusses the need to develop a player who “HATES TO LOSE as much as they WANT TO WIN.”
WINNING & RESILIENCY
Resilient children bounce back after a loss and look at failure as a chance to try again. In an effort to develop resilient children have we downplayed the winning and losing and focused, instead, too much on the life lessons and moral victories?
As parents, and as a society, have we somehow, unintentionally of course, created older children who are willing to work hard and go to practice 3 or 4 times a week – but who want to do this to “become a better soccer player” instead of WIN.
When does it become okay to encourage our children to try and win? When does it become okay to allow our children the opportunity to experience the emotion of winning – without worrying about the repercussions of them therefore possibly having to deal with the emotion of losing?
And, when we talk to our child after a loss, when can we move beyond the “It’s okay, they were bigger than you.” “It’s okay, your two best players were sick today.” “It’s okay – you passed the ball great today.”?
Is our intention to let our children believe that losing is “okay”?
I want my child to want to win each and every time she is put in a game-like environment – in 5 vs. 2, 7 vs. 7, 1 vs. 1 – Every-Single-Time. I don’t want her thinking: “In this 7 vs. 7 game, I want to improve my first touch on the ball and concentrate on improving my runs off the ball.” Instead, I want her thinking: “Okay, we’re going to WIN this.” I want her rallying her teammates and sizing up her competition – even if it’s one of her fellow teammates in training. If the level of play is competitive – she will be developing her first touch and runs off the ball – as she does everything in her power to WIN.
So again I ask, when, in our children’s development of resiliency, does it become okay to say:
“I want you to WIN today.”?
I know – that’s a cringe-worthy question in today’s society.
Please understand, it’s NOT “I want you to win today…FOR ME”….Rather,
I want you to win today so you can experience the pure joy of WINNING. I want you to win today because LOSING IS NOT FUN.
Yes, losing in any form is a chance to build resilience and try again. However, let’s be clear: Losing is not fun. Winning is FUN.
WINNING vs. DEVELOPMENT
Winning is a tricky subject in today’s soccer world where, in the best interest of the players, soccer leaders are endeavoring to educate parents on the benefits of development over winning. Soccer leaders want parents to make choices regarding which club their children play soccer to best benefit the long-term soccer development of their child. They are working to help parents recognize that it’s not always best to have their child play on the team where the coach puts the big and fast kids up front and has their goalkeeper punt the ball every time to them in order to score goals.
Winning such as this – based on non-developmental soccer tactics – has little value.
To be clear – as a coach – I’d always choose a team of not-so-athletic, small kids with a deep and sincere desire to WIN over a team of athletic and strong kids who show up everyday and go through the motions. I’d always rather lose with a team of misfit winners than win with a team of athletic robots.
WINNING & FUN
In an often-referenced study by Amanda J. Visek published in the 2014, kids determined that “fun” was the main reason they participated in sport. On this list, “winning” was ranked No. 48. This study is often referenced as a means of taking the winning out of sport and being sure to keep it “fun”. I get it, but isn’t pushing yourself to be your best and competing and trying to win – “fun”?
In a follow up, less widely referenced study, as a means of advising and supporting parents and coaches on keeping children active in sport, Visek sought to identify what “Fun” was to these kids. She developed a model called the Fun Integration Theory. In this theory she determined multiple reoccurring Fun Themes that were determined by the participants of the study. Among them were “Self-Referenced Competency,” “Coaching Encouragement” and “Personal Accomplishment.”
I find it hard to see how kids are going to feel a sense of Personal Accomplishment, (and according to the Fun Integration Theory “have fun”) if they aren’t trying to win.
And, I think it’s important for us to ask – doesn’t being encouraged to feel Personal Accomplishment without actually working your hardest and trying to win potentially lead to entitled children?
Believe me, I get it when kids are young.
Developmental psychologists will say it’s important to not keep score in games to support the self-esteem of children before they are old enough to have developed the intellectual skills necessary to process losing. Ken Barish, PHD, in his article “Winning and Losing” for Psychology Today, states important information about children and winning and losing: “There is much more than winning that makes competition an important socializing experience: Children should learn from competition the importance of teamwork and cooperation, of commitment to others and respect for our opponents, and, especially, learning to play by the rules.”
I 100% believe all of the above and at the end of my child’s athletic career – I want her to understand those concepts completely. I fully appreciate the importance of the socialization of sport and keeping a focus on these lessons through life and I definitely want my child to have FUN.
I just believe my child is more likely to “have fun” when put in a competitive environment where there’s something on the line.
I believe my child will feel a stronger sense of Personal Accomplishment by doing her absolute best to WIN, even if she loses.
One of my favorite things to say to my child is: “I love watching you play.”
It’s really a magical thing to say to a child and – thanks to John O’Sullivan with the Changing the Game Project – it has become almost a household statement around youth sports.
I think every parent should say “I love watching you play” over and over to their children.
And when they lose – if they are old enough and mature enough – let’s not let it be “okay”. Instead, let’s acknowledge and empower their inner-desire to WIN and say:
“I love watching you play…losing sucks, though, doesn’t it?”