In the last 15 years I have watched the youth athletic field transform from playground to competitive cauldron. As college programs expanded, dangling the promise of scholarship dollars, and sports clubs upped the ante with paid coaches and select teams, the win at all costs (WAAC) culture came of age. Somewhere, we left a lot of kids behind.
Coach and parent training organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance and Changing the Game Project have attempted to right the youth sports ship and dampen the WAAC explosion. Their many followers, supporters and commenters commiserate with each other sharing stories about how sport has done them wrong. Read these and you get the impression that everyone agrees: can’t we just have a little healthy competition without pushing our kids to the brink?!
Yet, on youth sports fields across the country, the “problem people” persist. When the score gets close and the championship is on the line, tempers flare, arguments ensue, and unruly behavior takes over. And even if fisticuffs aren’t literal, they are nearly always present behind the scenes as organizational politics get personal and finances get ugly. Losing coaches and losing teams don’t last long.
But look at what winning at all costs (WAAC) is costing us.
- ‘Select’ kids play on ‘elite teams with ‘cut-throat’ competitions.
- Travel, travel, travel. Time, time, time.
- Ruthless, reckless and aggressive play if skill can’t win.
- Intimidation of refs to improve chances for a favorable call.
- Coach, fan and players ejections.
- Shift blame for any loss to ref, opponent, field conditions, etc. to preserve our self image.
- Use all resources and any means possible to get my kid on the winning team.
- Fork over the $$$, because, if we really “love our child” we will “pay the price.”
- Get the college scholarship or die trying. Losers are not welcome here.
- Travel, travel, travel. Time, time, time. Resent. Resent. Resent. Repeat.
Any of us who have navigated competitive youth sports in the US have likely participated in most if not all of #1-10. Shouldn’t it be easier than this to field a team that always wins? Just recruit the best, most aggressive player at each position, entice the next-in-line to keep taking chunks out of ’em, and then, revel in the carnage. That oughta do it. Really, no coaching necessary. Of course, your kid may not make that team.
There is a less expensive way, but it’s way harder. It involves recruiting for the neighborhood recreational team and charting their course to the championship game. Let’s call this the win with everyone culture (WWEC).
Look at what winning with everyone (WWEC) gains us:
- Everyone plays.
- Diverse strengths are used to best advantage.
- Flexibility in roster, position and line up.
- Laws of the game are enforced for safe and fair play.
- Authority is recognized and respected.
- Nominal cost and reasonable expenses.
- Scholarships offered to those in need.
- Competition which motivates improvement.
- Losing is an opportunity for improvement.
- Your kid is guaranteed a spot on this team.
Hey, anyone can win with the all stars, but coaching the rec team for the win, now that requires real skill. Connecting with each player, identifying strengths and working on weaknesses, and then teaching them how to work together in ways that achieve the goals of the game…THAT’S hard. But isn’t it worth it? worth your time? worth your kid?
America’s youth need way more WWEC and way less WAAC. Playgrounds and rec fields are still the place America grows its champions. That’s where hard fought, cleverly executed, well-played games can groom pretty great kids into pretty capable adults.
Maybe the WAAC culture should have warned us that this Trump-thing was coming, but clearly playing the WAAC way is only meant for a select few. A win with everyone culture (WWEC) costs less but it’s much harder. That’s a win that will last because winning with everyone doesn’t just take talent; it makes talent.