Let’s be honest coaches and sport parents—we like to see our kid win. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your child to win either! It’s okay to be a little competitive because healthy competition is what pushes us as individuals to strive to be better, to want to perform our best. And it’s good that our kids learn that working hard and giving it their all is rewarded with a win—when you do your best good things come your way. But many youth sports parents and coaches lose their way after years of sports. After hundreds of practices and games and travel tournaments and extra coaching sessions winning can become the only thing that matters, and that is not the most important lesson for your children to learn.
Here’s what Coach Norman Dale from the sports film classic Hoosiers has to say about winning:
“Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again … If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. In my book, we’re gonna be winners!” (0:49)
Everyone loves an underdog story, which is probably why Hoosiers is considered one of the best sports films ever made. But the most important thing for us as parents and coaches to take away from that little speech is that fact that when our players put forth their best effort in every single play, no matter what the outcome of the game is, they deserve to be recognized for their effort. Sooner or later your youth athlete is going to face a team that is just as talented, dedicated, and wants to win as bad as your son/daughter and their teammates. But at the end of the game only one team can be declared the “winner.” Does coming up one run or one basket short render your child’s efforts as pointless? Of course not! Many more times in your life your child will put their heart and soul into something and still not be the “winner,” but that doesn’t devalue the time and effort they put into it.
As parents and coaches we have to be aware of what we say, what we mean, and how our children interpret it can be three very different things. If we’re not careful with our words our players might start to believe that even their absolute best isn’t good enough for us because without another checkmark in the win column it doesn’t count. As Coach Dale says in his speech, when you focus on the fundamentals and do the best that you possibly can no one can be disappointed in your performance. Does that make it any more “fun” to lose? Probably not—no one like losing (especially not tight losses), but we want to constantly remind our children that giving it their all is what matters the most.