Thank you to Ken Brink of Welcome Mat Judo for giving permission to reprint his article here. It was in Steve Scott's Welcome Mat newsletter and I thought it was well worth repeating.
A recent conversation I heard someone say, "It’s better for young players to focus on the fundamentals of the game instead of winning and losing. There can be a lot of anguish associated with competitive sports for young players".
It got me to think about how the kids in the class were talking about some of the other entry level sports that they competed in and how they don’t keep score, there are no winners , everyone gets to bat or shoot the ball there are no team trophies. Everyone gets the same generic award and the same generic end of the season party.
Life isn’t generic; competition varies in everyday functions. I believe that many youth sports are missing the coaches and parents who know how to set the essential ground rules for healthy competition for their athletes.
My personal belief on this matter is that competition is an important valuable and critical element of our society. Every child, during the course of his or her lifetime must compete in some form. It may be for grades in school, on the playground with friends or even in the work place for advancement. At some point a child must be empowered with philosophies and values about competition. Reflecting on my own childhood I began to realize that not everyone has had the advantage of experiencing a unique coach or leader who was able to instill a positive philosophy about competition that I had. There are many parents that don’t understand the attitude towards healthy competition. Another reason is that society is in love with the winner, only caring about who took first. Can you remember who took 2nd place on American Idol last year?
Through my years of coaching I’ve watched children quit because of a bad experience they had during a tournament. Regardless of the sport or child, it can usually be traced back to parents, coaches or a family member who is solely focused on winning that the child learns to associate losing with failure. Many times losing for these kids’ results in a verbal or physical punishment. Does it make sense why kids don’t like to compete?
During a tournament we ask that a child does their very best, gives 100% effort during the match and utilizes the skills that they have been taught. Winning is not based on the end result of the match but what happened during the match. Did the child gain ground on an opponent that they had lost too previously, did they work in the new technique they just learned, how did they handle themselves after the match was over, regardless if they won or lost. If the end result is a victory…Great, but should they lose then it is my responsibility to figure out why and help them improve.
As the child matures this becomes a team effort. This approach empowers the child to focus on something within their control, personal performance. It teaches them to ignore things outside their control, like the draw of the bracket, referees, or what color the opponent’s belt is. It’s a simplified approach to focus on one thing which allows the child to be more successful.
In our program, we teach self-confidence, self-discipline, self-control and self-respect. These are all life skills that are acquired as a result of an extended participation within our program; these are not skills that can be taught within one or two sessions. One of my fundamental beliefs is that empowering the child’s belief about competition will help them become more self reliant, mentally tough and self confident. By avoiding competition kids may be missing these valuable life lessons.