Letter: Ask the right question of young athletes

To the Editors:

It’s late on a weekend morning, you walk into the Village Market and see little Jimmy dressed in the uniform just having finished a game so you ask, “Did you win?” Seems natural, right?   

Well, put yourself in Jimmy’s shoes for a second. Chances are 50/50 he has to answer “no” because, well, that’s the odds. One team wins and one team loses. Maybe Jimmy didn’t win and he’s feeling pretty lousy about it. Maybe Jimmy hasn’t won in a few weeks. Maybe Jimmy isn’t the strongest player and doesn’t get the ball passed to him that much. Maybe his teammates, or worse his coach, gave him a hard time about making a lousy pass.

Most youth teams have two or three players that are really good and eight or 10 that are average or just learning the game. Odds are that Jimmy is one of the eight or 10. But maybe Jimmy’s working his tail off to get better — he’s practicing hard, taking lessons. Maybe he made a fantastic pass or got a great hit he’s super excited about. That’s all forgotten when an adult he likes, respects, and wants to please asks the question that negates all of that good stuff and is reminded again that what’s most important is winning. Is that the message we want to give to our kids?

I’ve coached youth sports for 13 years. All kinds of sports and ages, rec and travel, boys and girls. And don’t get me wrong — I’m as competitive as anyone. I’ve seen firsthand how participating in sports can do amazing things for kids. Build confidence, make lasting friendships, promote health, build life skills, and trust me — I know how great a feeling it is to get that win! But I’ve also seen how the wrong focus in sports can crush a kid, their confidence, and how they feel about themselves — often by adults that surround them on the fields, the sidelines, and yes — in the grocery store.

Let’s set our kids up to have the best experience in youth sports that they can. There’s a time where winning is the main focus. But most of our kids won’t compete at that level. The sports they’re playing in the fields around town on weekend mornings where we cheer them on should be about friends, getting better, and sure, healthy competition. If the main focus is on winning we’re cutting them short from gaining the most amazing things they can gain from playing team sports. And yes, it takes a village — we have the ability to affect each other’s children in a positive way. So the next time you see little Jimmy, or Sue, or Frank around town with a uniform on, do them a favor, don’t ask if they won first. Ask if they had fun. Ask if it was a good game. Ask how the season is going for them. Then if it’s really important to you — ask if they won.

Jason Witty

Blueberry Hill, Dec. 15