Playing, Not Winning, Should Come First

Dr. Milton Fujita, a California-based child-adolescent psychiatrist, has seen plenty of children harmed by participation in sports. "Organizing games for children is fine as long as it's organized so all the kids who want to play actually get to play,";he says. "When the whole issue of winning becomes primary, then participation suffers.. Winning is kind of inherent. You can't really de-emphasize it. But winning at all costs is something that needs to be looked at very seriously," says Fujita.

Condensed from an article by Ellen Carter, Detroit Free Press

With 38 million children from 6 to 18 playing sports in school, recreation leagues and travel teams, the pressure is on young athletes to be stoic team players regardless of age.
This year, thousands of kids from across the country in sports ranging from baseball to soccer will be spending a whole lot of time not getting into the game.
“Do I have a problem with younger kids sitting on the bench? Yes, I do” says Rick Wolff, sports psychologist and chairman of the Center for Sports Parenting. “When kids are under 12 years of age, it is absolutely wrong to have a situation where the coach says, in effect, we’re here to win.

No coach can predict how much better a kid will get as they get older. You’re not going to improve if you don’t play.”

Wolff and other youth sports advocates say teams should give equal playing time to all players through the age of 13, period.
They indicate fewer kids would drop out of sports if this were the case. Nationally, nearly three-quarters of all kids drop out of sports by age 13. Ironically, it is not until the age of 14 those psychologists indicate children are developmentally ready to handle sitting on the bench as part of being on a competitive team.Providing equal playing time for younger athletes is the ultimate objective, however, knowledgeable coaches and educators agree, there are certain caveats that should govern playing time even with younger players. Just as one would expect in a classroom, discipline, effort, attendance all are important factors that can influence the amount of playing time for young athletes. For example, allowing a star player to start after missing several key practices during the week over another child who has attended each practice does little in the way of instilling the values of commitment, team work, etc.
Even at an early age, coaches and parents can begin to teach the principles of effort, teamwork, and self-discipline.These concepts are no doubt at odds with real life.
Ever since travel teams were invented, the goal has been for the best team to win – even if some kids ride the bench for most of the game.
Compounding the issue, is the fact that parents and children really don’t separate emotionally until the mid-teens thus creating an atmosphere where what happens to the young athlete may feel to the parent that it’s happening to them. Thus the feelings of rejection and anger that a child has due to sitting out becomes present within their parent(s).
The height of this parental fervor, say coaches, parents, and athletes, is when children are 9 to 13 years old. Although fewer than 1 percent of child athletes ever become professional athletes, at that point of their athletic experiences, all children might yet be an Olympian, pro athlete, or college star.

Many of the worst incidents of youth sports have featured parents of fourth thru eight graders. Often they are sparked by conflicts over playing time. Of the 32 most serious incidences of youth sports recorded by the National Association of Sports Officials, 26 involved parent or coach violence over games for 5 to 13 year olds.
By high school, playing time issues tend to ease because many sports begin to make cuts, parent coaches fade away, and only the most avid athletes are left. At this point, young athletes begin to emotionally detach from their parents and begin to develop a sense of their athletic abilities and how they compare with their peers. Other interests develop in the teen years that slowly eclipse involvement in sports such as academic and social interests.
The important point to be made however, is that the likelihood of a child dropping out of a sport directly correlates to the quality or experience he or she may have had in the critical years of 9 thru 13 and the type of attitude their parents had in regards to their involvement and abilities.

If teens have any advice for younger athletes from numerous nationally surveys on the topic of sport involvement it is this: Do what you love, and never play just to please a parent or coach. The most important part of participating in sports is the fun and camaraderie of being with other kids.