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Not “winning” does not equate to losing

Not “winning” does not equate to losing

Youth sports is undertaking an interesting, and in my opinion, a scary metamorphosis. This is happening from soccer, to grid iron, from ski racing to snowboarding, from karate to even the arts. We are seeing a leak coming from elite, professional sport that is pervading into even the lowest levels of sport, right at the young age group in the development segments.

I read with much interest an article here:

It highlights how the culture of “winning” is now pervasive even at the youngest ages of the sport, and the development of skills, fun, camaraderie and the lifelong love of a sport is taking a back seat.

Now, using full disclosure, I make my living working with elite athletes, but I have also been fortunate to work my way up from the youngest, development athletes to where I am now. But my fondest memories, and those of my athletes, are those days of nailing a new trick or a new skill. Sure, they are proud of their great results, but what stokes them out most is progressing, getting better! “Winning” is obviously part and parcel of what I do as a coach, but perhaps the definition of winning is what we, as coaches, parents and athletes need to change.

I see it at the highest levels the strain that a singular mind set can create. Internationally successful athletes judging their whole journey in the sport based on results. It’s such a narrow, negative and rigid way of determining athletic growth and progression, and rarely accounts for any growth in the intangibles (passion, work ethic etc.) Trying to change that mindset to one of developing elite skills and where results are an “effect” of that development is where sport needs to get to, and that starts at the top of the food chain, with the National Governing bodies, with the pro athletes and coaches and with how we define “winning”.

It also requires a total change of mindset from our development coaches and us as parents as well. How we do that is the interesting conundrum, right? If all we see from the highest levels of sport is the “win at all costs” mentality, then surely that is the right way to go with our own kids?

Here are a couple of ideas for coaches:

  1. Even up to the highest of levels, celebrate new skills. Make sure that not one day goes past where your athlete does not celebrate an accomplishment or a win.

  2. Produce a culture of skills acquisition and progression. Of course, you should know what skills your athletes need to progress and be competitive, and what they need to progress to the top of their sport, but winning does not need to be what you base your culture on. I would argue even in team sports like soccer, a culture can be created of focusing on improvement every day, which then leads to good results down the track.

  3. Remember we are “star makers” not “stars”. We all got into coaching to work with kids and in sports we are passionate about. Share that passion, celebrate your ATHLETE’s success, and let them enjoy the limelight. It’s not about you!

  4. Keep it fun!

What can we do as parents to change the definition of winning?

  1. Ask our kids what was the coolest new trick or skill they learnt, be it after training or after a competition. Celebrate the effort, celebrate your kids desire to push themselves to a new level of performance!

  2. Buy into the coach’s culture and team environment. Be a supporter, and if the culture is not one you feel is best for your kid, speak to the coach. Knowledge is power!

  3. To kids, parents are their heroes. You have such a great chance to change how your kid defines winning and losing. Think about that for a second. Kids, especially at younger ages are very black and white. They see winning and losing as the only options. You can change the way your kids look at sport!

  4. Keep it fun!

One thought I will leave you with. I was having a discussion with one of my riders; a 3 time Olympian, who brought up an interesting point and showed the mindset of a great athlete:

“If I do my best run ever and I get a 10th, I will still be super happy. To people that judge success by my result, it will look like I have failed. But it will just drive me to get better, because that will be a personal success, and that’s what keeps me going. I need to see myself progressing and getting better. How do we get people to understand and celebrate that?”

And that is where coaches and parents can make such a HUGE difference in how we define “winning”. Not winning does not equate to losing.

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