My son’s fourth-grade basketball team was in the championship game against a really good team. It was obvious they were going to lose and that the boys were getting desperate for a win. They were playing sloppily just to get points on the board, which clearly wasn’t working. After their loss, my son’s disappointment was palpable the entire way home. When we got there, my husband could see our son’s downtrodden face when he asked, “Well, how’d you do?”
“We lost,” he mumbled.
“No, I meant how did you do?”
“Huh?” my son asked, confused. “I did OK. But I could have played better. ”
His dad didn’t ask the score or how many points he made, but they did talk about the game and how everyone was so desperate to win that it just wasn’t fun.
We try to put losses into perspective for our sons who play sports, but it seems like everyone always wants to know the score of a game and if my sons’ teams won. Relatives, acquaintances and even strangers ask them.
And I, for one, would like it to stop.
My sons are far from the best athletes on their teams and likely never will be the best athletes on any team. They play because they want to be with their friends and have fun. The competition of it all, however, is killing that for them. The pressure of winning, which trickles down from adults to kids, is changing the game.
Even at a young age, I’ve seen coaches put players in the outfield in baseball or make them sit the bench in favor of better players. And it’s all in the name of winning rather than learning and having fun.
I can understand the desire to win. Both my sons have been on really good teams with great season records. It’s fun to cheer them on to victory. But it’s also fun to see them try their best, learn new skills and, yes, have fun just being with their friends.
I can also understand that when there is a winner and a loser, kids learn valuable lessons about both winning with class and losing with grace, but these lessons should come with time and experience. I’d rather have my sons enjoy playing and learning the essentials of the game without the pressure of winning or losing and scoring or sucking (because even kids as young as 8 tell one another they suck).
With pressure from parents and coaches, the kids want to win so badly that they won’t pass the ball to the kids who “suck.” That feeling, knowing your teammates would rather not have you on the team, is a worse feeling than the one you get when you lose.
I honestly don’t care if my kids win or not. I do care if people make them feel like less of a teammate if their performance isn’t on par with winning. I do care if they are made to feel like less of an athlete because they didn’t score any of the points or tag someone out. I do care if a coach won’t even put them in the game because all he wants is a win. And I especially care if my kids stop being active because someone tells them they are not good enough.
My son had a baseball coach in second grade who, when asked by the boys about the score of the game, would respond, “It’s fun to fun!” To me, that’s exactly the right attitude our kids should have about sports, especially at such a young age.
So if you see young athletes in their uniforms or they tell you they had a game over the weekend, please don’t ask them if they won.
Here are some things you can ask them instead:
- Why did you pick that sport?
- What do you like about playing it?
- What position do you play?
- What do you like about that position?
And most important: Did you have fun?
Because it is a game, after all.
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