Readers speak on competition in youth sports 

In my June 27 column, after raising the issue of competitiveness in youth sports, I asked parents and coaches to share their thoughts in response to the question: “At what age should winning matter?” It was clear that most believe winning matters at every age, but solid arguments were made on all sides:

“Once the T-ball stand is removed, it’s time,” Eric M. writes. “When you keep score, the kids have a better sense of accomplishment. The better players SHOULD play the more important positions, not only because they want to win, but as a safety precaution as well.”

Of course they should, posts “Tell Yalater,” but you have to move them around, too. “Rotating players at an early age, such as outfielders to the infield, gives them an opportunity to tune their reaction skills as the ball comes much quicker.”

True enough, writes Daniel U., but what if they don’t have those reaction skills? “I had a child that couldn’t catch a ball if you dropped it in his mitt. His mother once asked why her child never got to play first base. Just as she asked, the shortstop threw a hard ball to the first baseman, who completely missed and got hit in the nose. Blood everywhere. The mom never bothered me again.”

Jason F. knows the danger as well. “I was OK with my son playing outfield during games, letting skilled players play infield. He played some infield in practice, when the action was controlled, but I would have been uncomfortable seeing him in a live game.”

Darn right, states Robert R., a 12-year Little League coaching veteran. “I am not putting a kid who doesn’t pay attention well at third base just to watch him take a bad hop in the face.”

As for the question of winning, Earl writes that it’s not always up to the coaches. “Winning does not ever need to be stressed with kids — just effort and attitude. With those things, success may come, just like in the real world.”

That’s precisely why the scoreboard matters, confirms Michael C. “Winning and losing should count at the 6- and 7-year-old level. Most kids today are given way too much without earning anything, and they go through life expecting things to be handed to them.”

Amen to that, agrees Paul V. “The only time I ever got a trophy was when I WON something! Make your own kids soft and tell them everything is OK no matter what, and we’ll compare in 12 years which child had the better lesson as a kid.”

But that’s kind of crazy, contends Mark Z. “The win-at-all-costs mentality has to be put aside. Let the kids learn how to play the sport the RIGHT way.”

The right way, writes an unnamed reader, is to “Let the kids decide what’s important to them. This is a game ... to teach the kids teamwork and how to have fun. Let kids be kids!”

Remember, counters Tim G., that kids eventually become adults. That’s why they “should learn that hard work and teamwork are rewarded. We can’t teach them to strive to succeed when everyone wins.”

Perhaps a healthy balance is best, offers Tim B. “We lose too many kids to the uber-competitive youth sports we have today, but the lessons of earned victory and grace in defeat, are important ones.”

Bill P. agrees. “There must be a winner and a loser. I don’t want my kids in one of those goofy leagues where everyone wins or ties.”

The final word goes to reader Steve W., who writes, “Sports should never be so important that anyone derives their self-esteem from the outcome of a game, but if the alternative is telling the kids that the outcome does not matter ... and to LIE to 8-year-olds by pretending that life owes them a ribbon [or a paycheck] just for showing up, I’ll ALWAYS tell my son the truth.”

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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