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Fun Vs. Winning: Does it Matter?

Your kid’s game has just wrapped up. Fun vs winning, does it matter? What outcome do you prefer: a controversial win in which some kids, including your own, are a little upset, or a cleanly played loss where maybe there’s a little disappointment but mostly smiles all around? Be honest, now…

How Do Parents Feel?

I’m not a psychologist, just a sports dad and coach for two young daughters, but I think we are kidding ourselves when we tell our kids that we just want them to have fun in youth sports. If that were really true, why is there so much 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 also excel, become a leader, achieve all 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.

What Do the Kids Say?

A 2014 research study asked kids to rank aspects of youth sports that they consider “fun.” The results are fascinating, and perhaps startling to some of us sports parents: winning, playing in tournaments, practicing with specialty trainers, and earning medals/trophies are among the least fun parts of kids’ sports experience – almost as “unfun” as getting team pictures taken (#81 on the list). Yet, these things are probably 90% of what we parents focus on. 

So, what is fun for the kids? Things like playing your best (even if that’s not the best), mastering new skills, building relationships with coaches and teammates, and being active. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Would I be happy if my kid got all of that out of their sports experience, even if the wins were few and far between? Would you?

Fun > Winning

The truth is, I have a daughter who loves playing sports simply because it’s fun and doesn’t really get too concerned if her team wins or not. And to be honest, that has been really hard for me 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. I couldn’t understand how they could be happy when they were not winning any games. How can that be fun? I was so focused on winning – or lack of it – that I failed to see the many good things that my daughter was experiencing. She learned how to handle adversity, she recognized the importance of always giving her best effort, and she developed important life skills that benefit her off the pitch as well, like grace and sportsmanship.

As it turns out, thanks to having fun playing soccer, not necessarily winning soccer games, I have a happy, healthy, active daughter who has built a tight bond with her teammates and learned valuable life lessons. Seems having fun beats winning after all.

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About the Author:

Ian Goldberg is a passionate sports dad, youth sport coach and founder of iSport360. He spends more time at the ballfields than most, but considers it valuable R&D for the company. As the editor of the iSport360 newsletter and thought leader in the youth sport industry, Ian is a frequent speaker at industry events and was recently invited to join the National Advisory Board for the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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July 18, 2023

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