By Jason Tribbet
MMI Athletic Director
It was a nice summer evening and I was in line to get an ice cream at a local shop. A family was in front of me with two young boys dressed in their baseball uniforms. They must have been about 8 years old. When they got to the front of the line, the woman taking orders greeted them and then asked them a question. It was not, “What would you like?” or “How are you today?” The first thing she asked them was, “Did you win your game?”
I overheard this and immediately thought to myself, “When did winning become so important in youth sports?” After they answered her question and said they had lost, she took their order and went to prepare their ice cream cones. I then greeted the kids and asked, “Did you guys have fun playing today?” They smiled and said yes, they had fun. I then asked them what they had learned and if they thought they improved from the last game or practice they had. To me, winning is not the most important thing at that age or maybe any age, unless you are a professional that gets paid to win. Yet as a society, the first question we ask kids when we see them in uniform is “Did you win?”
I have a friend that has a daughter playing travel soccer. She is 10 years old and is very skilled for her age. The team she plays on has other girls around the same age and skill level. They travel all over, playing tournaments throughout the year. Last week when I asked how soccer was going, she said that they lost a couple games in their most recent tournament and the only way they can advance is to beat their next opponent by more than eight goals. Eight goals!! Really? So we are encouraging 10-year-old girls to go out there and beat up on their opponent to win by nine or more goals? To me, that doesn’t sound like we are sending the right message. The wrong message to me is “win at all cost and let’s embarrass the other team.” Young kids should be learning teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship along with the skills and rules of the game. Winning should be the last thing we focus on.
These two examples just show where we are as a society when it comes to youth sports and winning at all costs. We need to place less interest on winning the game and focus on the benefits of learning, having fun, socializing, and developing characteristics of a good person both on and off the field. As athletes increase in age and skill level and compete at the high school level, winning does become more important. It’s not the MOST important thing, but division champions are crowned, district championships are obtained, and even state championships are competed for. Once we get into high school sports, winning becomes more relevant and playing time is earned based on skill level. However, we should never forget what valuable lessons can be gained through competition and through athletics.
At MMI, we have a no-cut policy. Every student who is interested in playing a sport makes the team. We feel that athletics is one of the pillars that our education is built on, so we encourage participation and teach our students important life lessons through competition. We also encourage our coaches to empower our athletes to become leaders on the field. We pick team captains based on leadership qualities and those who are role models for the younger players. We do not measure success by goals scored, points earned, and wins and losses. But don’t be fooled: we still try our best to win every game or match that our teams take the field for. The level of success is not just measured by wins and losses; we look at everything that went into the game, the season, and the career of our student athletes. We measure success based on how our athletes have become better people equipped to handle college and the real world as a result of the lessons they learned being part of an athletic team at MMI.