Sometimes people can convince themselves of something so strongly that to them, it becomes the truth. That is to say, they actually believe a fallacy. Whatever the reason or the inspiration for the belief, it becomes so strong that they are incapable of an objective review and consequently come away with a prejudicial viewpoint that is at best inaccurate. This happens ALL…THE…TIME in youth sports. The problem in youth sports is that this viewpoint is not only inaccurate, it is detrimental to the development of kids as players and people.
I recently watched a youth game between two competitive teams at a tournament. One team had travelled by charter bus. Parents boasted about how far the team travels for games and tournaments, as “there just wasn’t any competition” for their young charges in their own area. Apparently they often fly to tournaments all over the world (I actually looked this up afterward; they really do fly to tournaments). The players were decked out in the latest gear, including everything from overpriced cleats to expensive warm-ups. It seemed clear that they didn’t lose often.
The other team was a good team in its own right; parental chatter seemed to focus more on their opponent’s charter bus than anything else. As the game started, parents from the first team grew exasperated. Their team was not able to get control of the ball, and it was clear that they were struggling. Their coach got louder, and so did the parents. After they went down 2-0, their players began diving and waving imaginary cards to the referee (having watched countless youth soccer games, I can tell you that this was not an overly physical contest).
This behavior continued into the second half. Finally, after one of their players fell theatrically to the ground, their coach pulled his team off the field, claiming the physical play was too dangerous. Rather than focus on the team’s actual soccer performance, the coach and parents convinced themselves that the reason for the defeat was not due to their opponent’s ability, but rather due to overt physicality (it wasn’t).
The parents and coach did their players no favors by walking out the way they did. In one sense you could see it as a social experiment to see how a mistaken belief (that one team was excessively physical) turned into a group excuse for failure. This was a shame, and I’ve never seen anything like it in youth sports. The objective reality was that on this day one team got outplayed, and there is no shame in that. Parents and coaches need to help kids learn from setbacks, and this was a perfect opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately the adults did the opposite, providing the kids with an excuse for failure. Struggling to get by an opponent? Dive. Mis-hit the ball out of bounds? Scream at the referee that it went out off the other team. The list goes on and on, and it’s the type of behavior that prevents young boys and girls from becoming responsible men and women when they get older.
These are the critical situations where parents and coaches need to guide players and help them understand the need to accept responsibility, learn from mistakes, and grow. We preach here on this blog that youth development is a long term process; individual game results DO NOT MATTER. Of course we want the kids to be competitive and try to win, but it’s also essential that they learn and develop, regardless of the result.
Childhood needs to be fun and youth sport certainly provides lessons that can help prepare kids for adulthood. There is more at stake here than simply a player/team’s technical improvement; we are helping kids grow to be the best possible versions of themselves. Let’s not provide excuses; let’s provide opportunities to grow and learn from setbacks so that kids learn to accept responsibility and be better in the future.