A 10-year-old waits anxiously as the list for a youth hockey team is posted. He soon realizes he has been cut from the A-team. The tears pour down. A 9-year-old performs tricks on a four-inch wide surface. One slip and all that she has worked for amounts to nothing. She falls. The tears pour down. A goalie leaps to save the ball in the final seconds of a tied championship soccer game between 12- to 14-year-olds. She misses. The tears pour down.
A recent poll in a Massachusetts' paper, The Boston Globe, stated the number one reason we play sports is to have fun. The last time I checked I do not remember crying being too much fun. The focus on winning in youth sports today has gotten out of hand. Parents and coaches seem to believe that at the age of nine or ten a child has reached the pinnacle of performance in that sport and if her performance is not that pinnacle, she gets lectures and criticism. Clearly someone changed the policy along the way from "It does not matter if you win or lose, it is how you play the game," to "It does not matter if you win or lose, just as long as you win."
This preoccupation with winning is taking its toll on youth. Many find they are placed under too much pressure and something that began as fun is now only a source of pain and stress. Many lose interest and wind up giving up the sport. Others, believing they will never live up to the standards their parents, coaches and they themselves have set, develop the attitude that they are not good enough, and also give up. Still others are burnt out by the age of 12, pushed too hard by "fanatic" coaches and parents who believe that a 12-year-old should be at this pinnacle of performance.
A child will not be, and should not be expected to be, at the pinnacle of her sport at the age of 12. She should be having fun. She is still growing and developing skills and will gradually become more serious about the sport. NHL Blackhawks player Tony Amonte was never selected for an A-team in his entire youth hockey career, and look where he is today. "Fanatic" coaches and parents should learn a lesson from this. As wonderful as winning is, losing is an equally important lesson to learn about life. Let fun be the focus of youth organized sports and let there be a drought of tears for once. l
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.