Competitive Sports: It’s O.K. to Want Your Kids to Win

Growing up, I was as clumsy and un-athletic as can be. Unlike me, my youngest brother was blessed with the ability to play sports well. He has played everything from soccer to football to lacrosse in organized leagues. Even though I never played well in competitive youth sports, I am still a big fan because I saw what a positive impact sports had on my brother’s life.

However, some people are not happy with kids’ sports these days. Recently, The Atlantic ran two pieces that discussed how parents are to blame for the evolution of kids’ sports, specifically the overly competitive nature of them. The first article, “When Did Competitive Sports Take Over American Childhood?“, concludes that modern-day kids’ sports are competitive in order to make them look good on college applications. In the 1960s, parents started to get anxious about how hard it was to get into college, and they began pushing their kids to succeed in sports as well as academics. The follow-up article, “Parents Ruin Sports for Their Kids by Obsessing About Winning,” alleges that parents cause sports to be too competitive because they are too focused on the score and not focused enough on the overall experience, as you can tell from the title.

Are parents to blame for how sports programs are run these days? In a way, yes, but I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Competitive sports can be time-consuming and even stressful at times, but they also teach kids lessons about teamwork, time management, good sportsmanship, cooperation, and more.

Despite my lack of athleticism, I was still a former high school softball player and dancer. I know playing sports in school can be downright exhausting, especially when coupled with mounds of homework. But the competitive nature of sports helps kids stay motivated to keep their grades up so they are eligible to continue playing, especially as they get older. There are also plenty of kids who thrive under the structure of after-school sports, which prevents them from making bad choices if left to their own devices.

Since it is generally considered good parenting to encourage and push our kids to do well in school, why would pushing our kids to perform well in sports be controversial?

I think encouraging children to win (in a healthy way, of course) is valuable. I’m not saying that we should become intensely competitive over a bunch of 5-year-olds kicking around a soccer ball, but I would hate to see competitiveness fade away altogether because we’re worried kids are going to develop low self-esteem. Not everyone deserves a trophy or an award for every season either, though this is happening more often. After all, would we give everyone an “A” for showing up for a test? Failure is actually good in small doses; it helps kids become more confident in the long run.

Image: Little Boys Playing Soccer via Shutterstock

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