Winning VS Development: not even close…

This post is the first of what I intend to be a bit of a series on youth sport and kind of picks up where A Sporting Chance left off.  I want to chat briefly about winning vs. development in child and youth sport and share a wee epiphany with you. Although this has long been a topic close to my heart, I have been doing much more thinking and reading on the topic as preparation for the Re-Imagining School Sport pre-conference session that Vicki Harber (@vharber) and I planned for the #Banff2015 National HPE Conference. The day was full of great conversations and evidence to push some of the boundaries of what we know is good for kids in sport.  As well, two recent articles on youth sport caught my attention this week and are worth the time for you to read them (now or later- it’s up to you).

Where the “elite” kids shouldn’t meet.  Tim Keown, ESPN.  All about the marketing and the myth of elite sport for preteens.  “This is the age of the youth-sports industrial complex, where men make a living putting on tournaments for 7-year-olds, and parents subject their children to tryouts and pay good money for the right to enter into it.”

Playing youth sports about having fun, developing skills.  Jason Gregor, The Edmonton Journal.  This article is all about why a 9 year old hockey player quit playing spring hockey and the letter his dad wrote explaining the decision. “…as a nine-year-old, you have only played two shifts in the game, no matter how important that game is … it is time to have a talk with yourself and re-evaluate why we do this.”

Full disclosure: I am extremely biased on this topic and believe that there shouldn’t even be a debate. In my mind, if you are involved in child or youth sport in any way, shape or form (parent, coach, ref, etc.) and consider placing winning some banner, trophy or medal ahead of the development of individuals and teams – you should give your head a shake. Just thought you should know…

In this installment, I want to address the culture of “my kid is really good and therefore deserves to play much more so we can win”.  Kinda what both of the previous two article’s address.

I once chatted with a parent who was bemoaning the fact that her daughter was playing the same amount as other kids on her team. She shared with me that, in addition to the $1,400 team fees that all the kids played, she was also spending $800/month on private training and weekend clinics (her daughter was playing U15 volleyball). In her mind, her daughter should be playing more because she was spending more on training and was “better” than the other girls. This got me thinking…

Let’s look at a professional sports franchise – often held up as the pinnacle of sport achievement.  The Edmonton Oilers, not currently contending for Lord Stanley’s Cup (but things are looking up!), are such a team.  According to http://www.hockey-reference.com, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made $6,000,000 last season and averaged 20:38 minutes a game.  In contrast, Luke Gazdic made $800,000 and averaged 7:23 minutes.  Hmmm…  Here comes the epiphany – wait for it!

Since there are a certain number of people who want kids to play “just like the big leagues”, why don’t we model that?  Since our kids DON’T get paid to play, what about if kids that PLAY MORE – PAY MORE! PLAY LESS – PAY LESS! We could have a sliding scale based on minutes / sets, etc.  That way, those that want their kids to play more can pay for that privilege!  Brilliant, eh?

Sounds odd but if you really want your team to focus on winning, wouldn’t this be the best way to go?  (insert sarcastic emoticon here)

Of course I am being facetious, however, I am using this example to ask why we focus so much on winning in youth sport? Kids really don’t need to focus on winning – sure, anyone would rather win than lose BUT – their care does not last… There has been LOTS written about what kids value in sport – winning is not at the top of the list. Winning should not be a high stakes game for kids.

So.  You GET PAID to play? Then playing time can differ.

If YOU PAY, then you should PLAY!

School sport, youth sport – anything that claims to be developmental and “for the kids” should be held accountable to actually follow through and be “for the kids”. Why the focus on banners, titles, trophies, winning as the main goal? I have yet to hear someone with a valid argument on why (in a “developmental system”) – please let me know if you do!

I could tell you more stories on this theme but I’d rather post this for now and then take a look in the pot I have stirred up…

3 thoughts on “Winning VS Development: not even close…

  1. Doug, thanks for this post and I look forward to reading the others. We’ve got a great sports league set up for international students in the Shanghai region here in China. I know many similar leagues are set up around the world in different countries, but I’ll just give your readers a glimpse into what it is all about. There are several different sport seasons that run throughout the year; basketball, soccer, volleyball, floor hockey, and track and field.

    The emphasis is on healthy competition that is rooted in sportsmanship and skill development. It is run for students from grades 5-8(gr5-6 for one bracket and gr7-8 the other bracket). Any students wanting to participate simply sign up then take part in after school training sessions. Playing time is equally distributed during tournament time with all players getting the same amount of time. There are no scores kept, no medals, trophies, playoffs, or ribbons.

    My son, Eli, who is in grade 5 signed up for all of the sports and went to all of the tournaments. As a teacher at the school, I have coached several of the teams in the past. Although no scores are kept, there is no question that the students keep track of how many games won and how many games lost. However, number of games won and lost doesn’t become a hot topic of conversation, the kids just want to know how they did.

    As a father, I can tell you that my son comes back from every tournament having had an amazing experience. To him it is about the bus rides up to the tournament, hanging with his friends, meeting kids from other schools, learning new skills, competing in a healthy way, and the sense of community that is built around these tournaments. As a coach, these tournaments are great. The coaches all take turns refereeing games. There is an atmosphere and culture set up that allows the students to understand that these tournaments are about finding the joy in playing sport and competing in a healthy and positive way. At the end of the day, winning doesn’t matter. There is an all-star game where 2 players are selected from each team to play. After this all the students get back on the buses and head back to their respective schools. A great day had by all!

    This model of sport is something that as a parent, coach, and teacher, I am proud to be associated with. I wish more parents and coaches would understand the value in systems such as this.

    My thoughts. Thanks again for the post Doug.

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