Statistics say that 70% of kids involved in sports drop out after becoming teenagers. Such is the case for many reasons, but, in general, it boils down to a loss of enjoyment from participating. In numerous studies of youth athletes, fun was repeatedly identified as the leading factor for involvement, but once this thrill is lost, they will be less interested in participating.

One factor that can cause this loss of enjoyment is the overemphasis on winning that has become prevalent in student-athletics. As sports have become more organized and serious, the pressures placed on athletes by coaches and parents to win can be overwhelming for some kids, forcing them to decide to exit.

An unhealthy focus on winning can lead to negative actions.

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” is a popular quote in the sporting world. While this might sound appealing to some and is the mantra of many coaches, players, and parents involved in sports, does it capture the true essence of sporting competition?

This thinking can lead to actions challenging the integrity of sports and those involved—changing birth certificates to include overage players, tampering with addresses so players outside a school district can compete, and targeting an opposition player for some extra rough treatment—all occur from a “win at all costs” mentality. These negative actions and lessons can trickle down to the athletes, who may find it acceptable to color outside the lines to achieve victory.

Why winning is important.

Some have taken the opposite stance and believe that winning, especially at the youth level, is unimportant, focusing solely on participation. Again, this is probably not the correct answer because sports is competition, and scoring is part of that.

Winning and losing are essential parts of competing and are necessary lessons to gain experience and learn from. No serious teenage or adult athlete derives pride from being on a losing team, which can influence high school athletes to drop out of the sport.

Winning develops confidence, especially if the athlete feels they have improved or beaten a worthy opponent that drove them to compete at a higher level. Winning also builds team chemistry and cohesion, as it is much easier to get along when things are going well. Winning is also important in motivating youth athletes to continue training to improve and give them a reason to give their all when competing.

Sports as a teacher.

Another element of the sporting experience, which is to ensure the score at the end of the game is not the be-all and end-all, is necessary.

Sports participation has been shown to have many positive effects on student-athletes, teaching life skills such as time management, discipline, responding to adversity, how to be calm under pressure, work with others, compete fairly, the importance of hard work and dedication, and many other lessons essential to approaching adulthood.

The valuable teachings sports offers should not be underplayed. These lessons can be learned whether you are winning or losing. The best way to ensure you are on the right path as an athlete is to broaden the definition of winning to include putting out the maximum effort and doing things the right way. An essential part of growing up is learning to maturely assess your losses to determine what went wrong and how mistakes can be limited or techniques improved to win next time. As the saying goes, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”

Many observers feel that development and improvement processes suffer the most when athletes, coaches, and parents solely focus on winning. Developing skills and knowledge in any arena is a constant process that requires consistent work and mastery of fundamentals. Taking shortcuts to chase after short-term wins often means sacrificing the right process to make incremental progress.
This is not beneficial to an athlete in the long run. If you plan to participate in sports during college or dream of going professional, ensuring that you learn how to execute skills to improve your competency is much more important than winning.
Though winning is great, do not make it “THE GOAL”, or you will miss out on all the other lessons that sports has for you.

“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you will be a winner.  

The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.”

Paul “Bear” Bryant

Head Football Coach of the University of Alabama (1958-1983)