I have to address the elephant in the room. I'm not a psychologist....just a sports dad and coach for two young daughters. But I think we are lying to ourselves when we tell our kids that we just want them to have fun in youth sports. If we were sincere, would there be such chaos on the sidelines and in the bleachers of youth sports games? Could it be, what we really mean to say is "we want you to have fun but while you're at it, you must learn to master skills, become a leader, achieve your goals and be a winner." Because, sadly, so many of us act as if failure to do these things on the 5th grade travel soccer team means they will fail to do these things in every future endeavor they pursue: high school, college, career, life.
Am I wrong?
A 2014 Research Study* asked kids to rank aspects of youth sports that they consider "fun". And you will not believe what the kids revealed. Winning, playing in tournaments, practicing with specialty trainers and earning medals/trophies (basically 90% of the things we as parents focus on) are among the LEAST FUN parts of their sports experience.....almost as "UNFUN" as getting team pictures taken (#81 on the list). However, the most fun parts of youth sports are playing your best, mastering skills, building relationships with coaches and teammates and being active.
The dilemma is, I have a daughter who LOVES playing sports simply because it's fun and genuinely doesn't care if her team wins. WOW. That is really hard for a parent to digest....and accept. Frankly, I nearly lost my mind, along with every other parent on our team when our girls lost every single game last season. But the truth is: Thanks to soccer, I have a happy, healthy, active daughter who has built a tight bond with her teammates. She has learned how to handle defeat. She's also building strong life skills on and off the field. Perhaps this dilemma is more of a win-win than I thought.
Ian Goldberg is the Founder and CEO of iSport360, a new SportsTech venture bringing objective goals and fair assessments to the parents, coaches and players in the chaotic world of youth sports.