Winning Isn’t Everything or the Only Thing

Youth and senior leagues across the Island have finally been getting up and running for the 2020 outdoor season. Teams and their coaches will be battling it out to see who can best their opponent. While the objective of the game is to score more goals than your opponent, it’s not the only objective. Or even the most important one for that matter.

A large majority of youth sport participants get out of a sport or drop out of all sports during their teen years. The statistic you’ll see mentioned is up to 70% leave a sport or all sport as noted in this article here and here. It’s a pattern I’ve seen in soccer programs across the country including here on the Island. There are all kinds of kids playing up to the age of 11 but then by U18 you can barely field enough teams to have a league.

Of course, there are reasons for that drop out. Some are within the control of the participants, like taking on a job or more study time, while others, like the quality of the coaching and amount of competitive pressure put on players, aren’t within their control. While kids leaving sport because of their own choice is one thing, participants feeling like they were forced out is quite another.

One of the first studies I’m aware of that looked at reasons for participation, surveyed over 10,000 youth ages 10–18. The American Footwear Association (AFA) sponsored the research and the results were put in a report that came out in 1990. A key element from the report was that participation declines sharply as participants get older. Also, having fun was the most important reason for participation and not having fun was the most important reason for quitting. Other key messages were that winning isn’t as important an objective to kids as adults might think it is and there are many reasons why young people participate in sport.


Expanding on this, when I worked at Ontario Soccer my colleague Bobby Lennox, who was in charge of grassroots soccer for the province conducted his own survey on over 1000 players from around the province. He went and visited them in person (without parents in the room) and asked them why they participate in soccer, what’s important to them about being in soccer and what the adults involved around them should do. Here are the things those kids said for those three particular questions.

From the Ontario Soccer Presentation titled Grassroots Players Survey.

From the Ontario Soccer Presentation titled Grassroots Players Survey

From the Ontario Soccer Presentation titled Grassroots Players Survey

Whether it’ 2020 or 1990, kids seem to be telling us the same things over and over again about how youth sport participation should be organized. Winning may be the objective of the game but it is far from the main objective for the majority of youth sport participants. While there are many different types of objectives we could look at here, I’ve always been partial to these seven from Dr. Rainer Martens.

1. To help young people become physically skillful and gain an appreciation for these abilities.

2. To develop an active lifestyle and a lifelong commitment to such a lifestyle.

3. To play for sheer fun and to enjoy themselves.

4. To come to know themselves and like what they come to know.

5. To develop interpersonal skills.

6. To enhance their self-worth by developing positive self-concept and self-confidence.

7. To become responsible, autonomous contributors to society.

The Club has reduced these down to three core values:

1. Safety — both physical and emotional

2. Fun

3. Challenge/learning

You’ll find these three values throughout all our programs, regardless of age or competitive level. The take-away here is that our kids, their teammates and their coaches should strive to both win every game and develop each week. However, if the two cannot be done simultaneously then development needs to take precedence over winning. And trust me, there will be plenty of times throughout a participant’s youth sport career where those two objectives will clash and one will have to be chosen over the other. We’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice what we preach.

We want everyone to be clear about where our priorities as a club lie. And if you see anyone involved with our club who does not seem to be aligning with those priorities, please let us know.

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