The “Winning At All Costs” virus continues to grow in youth sports, and it’s up to coaches that can check their egos to eradicate it.

If you bring up the topic of equal playing time and winning games in youth sports, you’re guaranteed to get a heated debate of epic proportions. As much as we love to argue about politics in today’s day in age, we love to argue what we believe to be right or wrong when it comes to youth sports. As a society, we all tend to agree and understand the importance of the life lessons that being competitive teach young children, but what we fail to see is that winning at all costs in the world of youth sports isn’t creating a generation of winners.

Don’t get me wrong: WINNING IS IMPORTANT. It teaches you numerous life lessons such as competing, teamwork towards a common goal, resiliency, overcoming adversity, communication, having a deep belief that you can succeed, and that anyone has a fighting chance to win once the game starts, to name a few.

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However, winning at all costs isn’t important at all – it’s down right ugly and embarrassing to watch. It’s only creating a generation of entitled, elitist athletes that think they deserve everything in the world because their skills are superior to the people around them. And most importantly, a winning at all costs mentality teaches children (6-12 year olds) that integrity doesn’t mean anything as long as you get the win when the final buzzer sounds.

The whole “snowflake sports” movement is not what I’m preaching. In fact, I believe that it is one of the movements that is wrong with our society today. There are too many teenagers out there today that have a lack of respect for their teachers, coaches, and other authoritative figures in their lives that you didn’t hear about 20 years ago. Entitlement is not the road to achievement.

When young athletes graduate into high school and sports become much more competitive, they need to be primed for the real world and understand the importance of winning. They need to understand that the cream rises to the top, how to play for coaches that reward excellence in their performance, commitment and effort, and how to reach down deep within themselves and dedicate their time towards an unknown outcome. But, that’s not what were talking about. We’re talking about young kids, not teenagers.

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If you bench kids at an early age to win a $35 plastic youth sports trophy so that you can blast chumbawumba on the way home relishing in your victory, you fail on so many levels. Not only do you fail to teach important life lessons to the kids that you benched, you fail to teach them to the kids that you played also. If you have to bench kids because of disciplinary reasons or because of bad or poor behavior, lack of commitment, or because they’re misbehaving – that’s a totally different story.

When you consistently bench young children and don’t allow them to play because of their inferior ability to play the game, or a lack of enthusiasm, you’re actually part of the problem. Why are you part of the problem? Because you fail to understand that you are a teacher. You fail to teach what life lessons playing sports has to offer and emphasize that winning at all costs, not the way that you play the game, is more important than anything else in the world.

In coaching youth sports, you’re not deemed as a great coach if you win. You’re a great coach if your players become better athletes. You’re especially a great coach if your players graduate to the next age group with the same or even greater passion for the game than when they started. That’s what successful youth sports coaches achieve.

Great youth sports coaches dump the winning at all costs method, throw away the strategy, and teach kids how to play the game with enthusiasm.

They teach them that making mistakes and that losing isn’t the end of the world, but what matters in life is if you dust yourself off, continue to work your tail off, and have the backs of all of your teammates.

Admirable youth sports coaches teach. They don’t manage, they don’t coach. They teach how to field a ground ball, how to hit a jump shot, how to skate properly, and how to be enthusiastic about the game they play. They don’t demand, suppress, or curb a kid’s experience because they don’t catch on quite as quickly or appear to lack enthusiasm.

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This may be a tough pill for you to swallow, but nobody cares if you win games in youth sports. Sorry. It’s just the truth. Nobody cares if you have a .950 win percentage. Nobody cares if you won the last three tournaments you entered.  Nobody cares if you have the best elementary school team in the state. As much as you think they do, or I’m wrong, they don’t.

Is winning important? You betcha. But, that’s not the question. Everybody knows that you play to win the game. The question that you need to ask yourself is if winning at all costs is more important than having integrity and teaching your players how to love the game.

A deep love for the game is what creates an elite athlete. And, you can bet that down the road, later in life that they will handle their adversity much better than the kid that jumped around to be on a winning team.

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