In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Problems in Youth Sports

There’s something very wrong going on in the gym, on the field, in the pool, on the course, courts and/or track. It’s something quite insidious, sometimes operating just below the radar, and at other times breaking through and creating very loud, upsetting emotional “noises” which reverberate for weeks and months at a time.

You’ll find it in AAU, Elite travel teams, ALL STAR squads, JR. National teams, the “Major Leagues” in the the Little League system, 10 and 12 & under national championships, TOPS National Training Program in gymnastics, National and regional rankings of young athletes in almost every sport, etc. It’s in what most of these highly competitive youth sport leagues, competitions and/or phenomenon all have in common?

First off, they portray the primary aim of competitive youth sports as that of becoming the best, of being number ONE. If you look at most of these competitive institutions, what’s most important to them is winning; The better, more talented athletes are the ones who get the most attention and the pressure on these young athletes to produce and come through is intense.

There’s no question that in a lot of these institutions, the founding fathers and mothers pay lip service to the important values of learning physical skills, displaying good sportsmanship, fostering teamwork, following the rules, helping kids feel good about themselves and more. However, the reality is that these fine values often get sacrificed to the god of winning.

Why is there so much cheating in youth sports all the way through high school and even in college? Why do junior tennis players blatantly call in balls, out? Why do junior golfers break the rules during tournament play and openly lie about their scores? Why are kids turning to steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to give them the edge? Why? Simple! These kids have learned that integrity, honesty, reputation, character and fair play are not nearly as important as winning! These kids are under so much pressure to “be the best” from their coaches, parents and peers that they have become blind to HOW they’re going about winning.

You see this same sacrificing of honesty, character and integrity with coaches as well. This is because “good” coaching has been equated with winning. “Losing” coaches are considered to be less talented. No one seems to care very much about the fact that many of these “good” coaches may also be emotionally abusive individuals who use fear, intimidation and humiliation as their primary “teaching” tools.

Parents then blindly choose these “winning” coaches for their son or daughter to play for because they want their child to have the “best opportunity” to grow and develop as an athlete and they mistakenly believe that this “very successful” coach will help their child get there. The sad fact is that this poor excuse for an educator will do far more long lasting damage to most of these kids than anything else!

Our competitive youth sports system is badly broken and corrupted. Too many of us are blinded by the glitter and glamour of winning and “being the best.” We mistakenly believe that this is the primary purpose of the competitive sports experience. This is like saying that the primary purpose of elementary, middle and high school education is to get good grades. What about learning in the process? What about the stimulation of intellectual curiosity? What about turning on young kids to the excitement of learning and personal development? Getting all “A’s” doesn’t make you smart, nor does it necessarily have anything to do with accurately measuring what you’ve learned. Likewise, winning or being ranked #1 doesn’t necessarily make you a winner.

We’ve lost our way when our kids are allowed to cheat and the adults involved wink and turn the other way. We’ve lost our way when coaches are allowed to be emotionally abusive and get away with it just because they have a winning record. We’ve lost our way when we measure excellence solely by the shallow marker of winning. We’ve lost our way when everyone pays much more attention to the better athletes and the “less talented” ones are permanently relegated to the bench. We’ve lost our way when we allow the best athletes to break the rules and believe that they can operate by a different set of rules because they are so “special.” We’ve lost our way when poor sportsmanship and massive egos are allowed to exist just because a kid is “good.”

We’ve lost our way when we think that the outcome of a silly game is much more important than a young person’s emotional and physical well-being and happiness. The system is badly broken and YOU and I need to do something about it NOW!


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