Coaching Our Children – What Price is Paid for Focusing Only on Winning?

The recent basketball team coaching scandal at Rutgers University speaks volumes about what is going on at all levels of sports in this country.  The basketball coach was caught on tape both physically and verbally abusing players.  The video shows the coach pushing players, throwing basketballs at them and wildly gesturing as he yells.  This case involves college students so it is easy for parents of younger children to shake their heads and feel disconnected.  But how different is this scene than the scenes that take place on some of our youth sports teams? 

I applaud the people who step up and are willing to voluntarily coach sports teams.  These volunteer parents give a great deal of their time and my own children have benefited.  There are some wonderful coaches out there who volunteer their time because they want to give children a good experience.  Unfortunately, there are the others who are so concerned with winning that children as young as 5 years old are made to feel inadequate.  On some youth sports teams, winning has become more important than teaching good sportsmanship.  What happened to teaching graceful winning as well as losing, encouraging team work and applauding bravery? 

I have attended more than one game and watched coaches act in a way that is a poor example and demeans children either on their team or the other.  I think this is reflective of two issues. 

First, people who don’t understand how children think and learn are permitted to be in a position of authority.  In order to be allowed on most sports fields in New Jersey, volunteer parents must complete a health & safety course.  We need to consider adding another component.  Coaches need to understand children and what motivates them.  They need to know how to instill a desire to win while still supporting the development of a positive self-image.  In fact, anyone who works with children should spend some time learning about not only their expertise but about those they serve.  Gymnastics, dance and other instructors should be offered guidance not only in how young bodies move but also in how their minds work.

Second, we are an increasingly product based society that puts unrealistic expectations in place.  Our 2nd graders are doing what used to be 3rd grade work.  Our 1st graders are asked to do what we did in 2nd grade and our kindergarteners don’t play nearly enough if at all.  High school students are convinced to take numerous advanced placement courses only to discover that the scholarships they thought would be offered are not.  Parents feel pressure to have their children reading before they are ready and enrolled in every possible activity.  Everyone talks about the standardized test scores and winning rather than the process of learning and participating. 

The incident at Rutgers needs to be a wake-up call for all of us.  When we are horrified by the videotape of the treatment of those players, we need to consider the ways in which we want our children treated and the lessons that will stay with them throughout their lives.   We need to let the sports leagues and all coaches in their lives know that we expect our children to feel good about themselves and encourage others.  They can be instilled with a desire to succeed while still being good sports.  Let’s bring back routing for the underdog, encouraging the courageous and providing safe places for our children to just enjoy being a part of a team.  

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  1. I coached one season of soccer and I always taught the kids to have fun. I wanted them to learn that it wasn't all about winning and to be a good sport. After that season, a few parents didn't want me to coach their kids any longer. Guess they were about winning. It was a group of kids who were in kindergarten.

    1. Yes - I've seen that happen too. It is a sad statement about the parents' egos and the pressure they put on their children.

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    1. Thank you for the lovely compliment! I am glad you find my articles valuable. I am going to check it out!


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