Youth sports: Personal development is the award

By | February 27, 2017 | Motherhood & Family

The same debate takes place every season. Winning vs. Losing. I’ve experienced it from different angles and had this discussion countless times with parents and coaches. I’ve coached teams that go nearly undefeated, and those that can’t seem to win a game. I prefer neither. We can’t engineer the outcomes, and if we could, I wouldn’t do it.

As a league organizer, I review the standings every week. There are teams that continuously find themselves at the bottom of the standings or near the top. Each week, I hope for the losing teams to win, and the winning teams to lose. Every player needs to experience both in order to grow.

Recreational vs. competitive divisions

Defining a recreational and competitive division invites seasonal debate and arguments about which league is appropriate for which player. Some would argue that by distinguishing the two divisions, we create a definition of winners and losers.

There are important elements to youth sports such as team leadership. Younger players learn more quickly by association with older players, and new players learn more quickly from association with more experienced players. Socially engineering the teams to try and define the outcomes would not only be difficult, but it would be a detriment to the first rule of youth sports: Have fun! If you can’t play on a team with your friends, how much fun is winning anyway? Segregation of talent and capability in youth sports is not a great solution.

However, offering extra opportunities for those that are more committed to increasing their potential is definitely a good idea. To that extent, the league I manage offers skills camps and an off-season league that has a larger emphasis on peak performance.

Keeping score

From the league’s perspective, it would be nice not to keep score. It’s an administrative function that adds more work and is the source of many conflicts during the game. Who, you might ask, is conflicted about the score? It’s always the parents. Parents keep and know the score even if there isn’t one. From the league’s perspective, we keep score because it’s expected. At Grid Iron, the score doesn’t matter until the end-of-season tournament. Only then do we place any value on winning by awarding tournament champions with a trophy.

Trophies for participation

Should kids get trophies for participation? Absolutely not. This is a symptom of coddling. When was the last time you got a bonus at work simply for showing up? Playing the game and self improvement is the award for participating. However, before you pass judgment on me as an organizer, parents and kids have come to expect a token to recount the season. Out of demand from clientele, we offer a participation award in the form of a medal or trophy for all of the kids who participate. We also recognize tournament winners with individual season champion trophies.

You might ask me, “Why would you award winning after all your talk about winning vs. losing?” My answer: Because that’s the way life goes. We’re preparing kids not only for their next level of sports, but their life as well.

Youth sports are about reaching within yourself to perform at your potential, recognizing your deficiencies, learning from others, and improving yourself. If you achieve this upward spiral of continuous improvement, you’ll eventually find yourself at the top of your game. But players aren’t the only ones that can work on their personal development.

A team’s success is much like a three legged stool composed of parents, coaches, and players. If one leg is broken, the stool falls over. Read more about the psychology of winning and losing as it relates to each leg of the youth sports stool.

What do you hope your child takes away from his youth sports experience?


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Scott McMahon

Scott McMahon is the founder of Grid Iron Flag Football, an NFL Flag Football approved league delivering competitive fun for kids ages 5-15 and ONE Sports Nation. His mission is to deliver a positive youth sports experience through better coaching, better player development, and keeping families excited about youth sports. Scott’s been active in sports all his life as an athlete, a coach, and an official, and coaching sports long before he had children of his own.

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lifesportfitnes October 31, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Sometimes, depending on a child’s background, home environment, school life, family’s socioeconomic status by them actually making it out to play an organized sport with all the negative influences working against them is a great accomplishment.  That participation trophy could be the difference in a child continuing to play in the future.  It could give them that little boost that’s needed.  For the child on the other hand that has it all, support from all facets of his or her life, it’s maybe not so important.  These kids, as time goes on will be able to differentiate which awards are for participation and which are for on field performance.  I guess what I’m trying to say is depending on the situation and a certain type of player, participation trophy’s can be very important.

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