Winning Isn’t Everything, But Going All Out Is and So Is Improving Each Day

On Monday of this week I thought I had set up the perfect day for 9-11 year olds after school. We would play soccer for an hour and then finish off the day with pizza. As was our usual practice I divided up the teams the fairest way I could. It turned out that one team wasn’t quite so strong. As the first game progressed this particular team was not able to score and also allowed a few goals in. At the break when the game was over, one of the better players took off his shirt and said that he wasn’t playing for that team anymore.

When it came time to play against another team, he asked me if he could join another team. So I took his shirt walked him over to the sideline and said that I thought he should go home, that if being on the winning team was that important that he was in the wrong place. I told him that it was his responsible to play hard, not to win. So he walked and sat in the stands for quite some time. After about 10 minutes, he returned and asked me if he could play again. I told him that it would be ok, but that I expected him to play hard for his team. Well his attitude never did change all that much, but at least he could return and finish the day.

I was really irritated with this boy.  It wasn’t like he played his heart out and left everything he had on the field and then went away angry.  It was that he was so lethargic and that he had already given up before the game had begun.  He saw his team, decided that it wasn’t very good, and then played at 50% of his usual game style.

When I think about the way the world is, the pressure on winning at the highest level, I guess it is hard to fault him.  Perhaps the message I was sending was a bit of shock to him.   But now I am thinking.  If our best athletes hold back that much because they are so concerned about winning,  then how are we going to attract and hold weaker athletes.   This young boy’s attitude was a startling revelation to me that maybe I have not done enough to overcome some of the really bad messages that young people are receiving.

It just makes no common sense at all to make winning your goal.   A couple of injuries to key players, bad grades, or a few illnesses can wipe out a team and then their chances of winning drop dramatically.   What makes a lot more sense is to focus on improvement and learning how to play all out.   I can have a great deal of control over my own improvement, but I can’t control the winning and losing aspect of a game.  So I think that the most important aspects in the development of an athlete is to work on fitness so that he/she can play fully all the time and on improvement so that his/her abilities increase with every passing day.

I am going to be thinking about how I can teach young people to make a commitment to changing themselves each day, to learning.


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