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This is the second post in a three part series from the Coaches’ Zone on coaching competition. Make sure to leave your comments and let us know what you think.
My last post Coach Young Athletes to Always Compete addressed stressing competition over winning. How do I help players distinguish competitiveness from the desire to win the game? I start by teaching them that competing need not even involve an opponent, never mind a scoreboard that displays a game winner and loser. To compete simply means to strive to outdo. So I challenge my players in every practice and game to outdo. To outdo something. To engage in a competitive mindset, to focus on what we’re learning, what we’re practicing, and its purpose. I challenge my players to strive for improvement, to care about achievement, to reach. It has nothing to do with where they end up in the standings or their athletic potential; it has everything to do with developing a healthy sense of pride by learning to compete.
Secondly, I avoid the extremes and I avoid the choice. If I disregard winning entirely, I’ll let them down. If I over-emphasize winning, I’ll let them down. Instead, I keep winning on the list of goals but I keep other success goals on that list that are more consistently attainable. I try to employ each of my players in a way that challenges him to ignite his competitive mindset. For different players, that will mean different things. For each player on my roster, I seek realistic — but not sure-bet — winning challenges within each practice and game. I attempt to make positional assignments and apply appropriate levels of pressure from responsibilities that test each player with a chance to outdo. And if things roll our way, we might even find ourselves with a shot to win the game. If so, sure, we go for it. If not, we didn’t entirely fail.
In fact, it’s my youth athletes who have taught me this lesson. When I observe the emotional highs and lows of a typical youth athlete during a single game, I see that many wins and losses are mentally registered before the scoreboard displays the final tally. So I play those up. Win this at-bat. Win this inning. Win this play.
Some kids revel in the spotlight. Others find comfort is playing a supporting role to a team mate he admires. There are winning opportunities for all of them. And interestingly, the final score is not always the high or low point of the day for many young competitors. I look for winning opportunities along the way to the final whistle or last out, and try to help my players experience more of those every time I coach. In a sense, I try to turn winning itself into a process rather than an outcome.
Wanting to win is never something coaches need to impart upon their players. Players figure that out on their own. By focusing more on developing a healthy appreciation for what it means to compete, the goals — fun, improvement, success, wins, and learning to manage adversity – will take care of themselves. Do you stress competition consistently? Do you try to cultivate a healthy understanding of competition in the practices you structure and the games you coach? My next article will offer specific practice suggestions for developing a competitive culture while keeping it fun as a way of teaching kids how to roll with the ups and downs of winning and losing.
Bruce Reed is a youth sports coach, writer, educator, and father of two. He has coached high school and Little League baseball, youth soccer, basketball, and football and is currently the regional director of Compass Prep.