Obviously the easiest way to define winning in youth sports is to say whichever team has more points/runs/goals when time is called is the winner. Some sports leagues argue that keeping score undermines the true “spirit” of the game and have elected to not officially keep score or league standings, instead focusing on player development. Others feel that keeping score and learning how to handle winning or losing is a crucial component of playing youth sports. Not keeping score actually devalues the hard work the teams put in. But no matter which side of the score-keeping line you fall on, it’s important to note that the final score may not always be an accurate representation of the game that was just played. Can you win and still lose? Can you lose and actually win?
Beloved Coach Wooden’s personal definition of winning is fairly simple. Just play the best game you possible can and the final score doesn’t matter. If you give it everything you have than you can walk away a winner. And for the coaches? “Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.”
How can you win and still lose?
We’ve all seen those players that like to rub a win in their opponents faces…and no one likes those players all that much. The NFL even banned touchdown dances because they are considered “excessive celebration.” One of the things youth sports is supposed to teach our children is good sportsmanship–and that means being a good sport when you win, as well as when you lose. But it seems like good sportsmanship is on the way out in youth sports today if we aren’t careful. And resorting to unsportsmanlike conduct means a team might technically win on the field, but at the same time they fail to uphold Coach Wooden’s definition of winning (he also had rules about profanity and criticism). The Kentucky High School Athletic Association ordered all high schools to no longer conduct postgame handshakes due to an increase in violence during the postgame events. Even if both teams played a great game, the whole night is marred by unsportsmanlike behaviors, taking some of the pride out of the win.
How can you lose and still win?
Plenty of times in youth sports two great teams are going to face each other—and only one can have a higher score. Does losing automatically mean your hard work and commitment and dedication are invalidated? Of course not! Does winning a silver or bronze medal at the Olympics mean those athletes can’t be as proud of themselves as the person who won gold? No! (And the person who finished 4th still has plenty to be proud of as well.) In sports, there are going to be plenty of times where you give it your all and still technically lose. But if you can walk away from the game knowing you did everything you could, that your team did everything they were supposed to, than you can hold your head high. Even a tough loss can’t take that away from you.
Obviously no one likes to lose, especially when it was neck-and-neck. But even if you lose you can walk away proud. And even if you win you can come across as a jerk if you don’t handle it well.