Encouraging Growth Instead of Winning in Young Athletes

I am in the process of converting some VHS tapes to DVD for my brother and stumbled on some old footage from our track meets when we were younger. I think I was in first or second grade. What I realized was that the events I loved the most were actually the ones I was the worst at. I don’t know when, but at some point during my childhood, I stopped doing the sprints and jumps and focused on the throwing events. Most likely because I had success at the throwing events and usually placed near last on the other events. I feel like this is an attitude that is common in athletics, especially at young ages. We tend to lean towards sports that we are successful at, even if we enjoy other ones more. In my mind, this is a huge negative in how we develop our young athletes.

While I may not have been a track superstar, had I continued to pursue sprinting, it could have helped me develop some sort of athleticism at an earlier age and probably kept me from getting as heavy as I did as a young child. There are also mental effects that come with only choosing successful sports and events. As we come into adulthood, it can be scary to try new things. It took me years to finally attempt photography and videography, things I had been really interested in since high school. It was a fear of how I would be percieved.

As I kept watching, I noticed myself getting slower and slower as the years went on (most likely due to the weight gain). I don’t think there were any outside influences that caused me to quit. Even in high school when my basketball coach encouraged me to become a sprinter to gain speed, it was the fear of losing and not being as good as the other kids that made me turn the offer down. How can we as coaches to young athletes encourage growth over success? Is this something that is fostered through childhood and ingrained in our athletes before we even get to coach them?

The competitive aspect of sports is a huge part of this. I go back and forth on how much and how soon winning should be celebrated. I think keeping score is an important part of understanding how the game is played, but it’s a fine line between encouraging competition and celebrating winning. At a young age, growth should be celebrated more than winning. The advancement of skills should be the victory.