Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It Doesn't Matter If You Win or Lose...Yeah, Right

I'm coaching my son John's 6 years old and under soccer team this Spring. On Saturday, I went to a mandatory coach's meeting for the recreational youth league. It's a great program, teaching good sportsmanship first and foremost and requiring that all players get equal time in the game.

I agree with all that. And, of course, the no sideline smoking policy goes without saying. It didn't go without saying for my soccer coaches, though. I remember one guy quit smoking during the season--or maybe he just gave it up for Lent. Anyway, during one game, he paced the sidelines, his face turning beet red as he tried to decide who to yell at more--us or the referrees. Finally, he threw down his clipboard and said, "That's it. Either I have to start smoking or quit coaching."

Everyone thought that was hilarious.

But I digress. Another good rule the league has is parents not being belligerent. That one's a good idea, too. When I was in school, a couple dads got into it at a game and got hauled out of the gym and it caused some discomfort between the two families, who went to the same school. Yes, the fathers were fighting and on the same team.

Memories. But times have changed. Those kind of things can't and shouldn't happen anymore.

Surely, however, times have not changed so much that it doesn't matter if you win or lose. That's the one philosophy I heard this weekend that I just didn't understand.

It doesn't matter if you win or lose.

If that's the case, then why play soccer? Why not play duck pond, the game where everyone's a winner?

Granted, to my five-year-old son, it doesn't matter a great deal if he wins or loses. It's the first question he asks after a game, but a little ice-cream softens the blow of a loss.

But some of the kids in the league are 10, 11, 12 years old. When my teamates and I lost a game at that age--a close game or a grudge match, we cried our eyes out. If someone had said to me, "Well, it doesn't matter if you won or lost, it's how you played the game," I would have thought he was a crazy person.

Don't get me wrong. I've been on and coached plenty of losing teams and it wasn't the end of the world. It wasn't even the end of the beginning of the world. But it mattered. It got to us.

It should get to you. That's how you learn to deal with disappointment. To do better next time. To want it more next time.

At the meeting, a man pointed out that only 1.5 youth players in a million grow up to play sports professionally. He said that statistic might cool the jets of parents who got overzealous. Parents, yes. But kids really should want to win, career goals not withstanding.

I knew as a youngster that I wasn't going to play professional sports, but I still wanted to win. Not to the point of being a bad sport. We got in big trouble if we did that. But to the point of playing our hearts out.

My brothers were good athletes. I remember stomping on the bleachers during close championships played in the Christ the King gym, trying to drown out the other team's rhythmic chants. I remember the announcer instructing us not to that. The bleachers would break. I remember feeling crestfallen when my brothers lost their games and exhuberant when they won. And that was in grade school. Those games were a big deal.

I remember my dad, who played high school and college football and coached grade school football, had two reasons for why your team lost. Either the other team was simply a better team or they wanted to win more.

Maybe I'm too old school. And don't worry, I'm not going to throw my clipboard down on the field during the six and under games. I'm not going to give speeches along the lines of, "You've got to want it so bad you can taste it!" No, no, no. I just want to teach these little guys how to play and how to be good sports. But they'll probably want to win. It's instinct. I mean, my boys compete to win who gets their socks on the fastest.

True, in the big picture, winning a youth soccer game doesn't matter much. But some day, winning something will matter to these kids. Whether it's getting the girl or boy, battling injustice, or teaching your kid long division so that he passes math, winning will matter. Talent and fate will help them succeed to some extent. But if they remember how to win--or how to lose and try again, they'll be that much closer to victory.

Sometimes wanting it is enough. Other times, you realize that you're up against someone with more talent and the same amount of heart and work ethic that you have. These are important lessons that youth sports teach.

If winning or losing doesn't matter, it waters down those lessons. I think it does matter if you win or lose. It may not matter to the league, as a matter of policy, but I hope, in the hearts of the players, that it matters. And I suspect that it does.

Thank you all for your encouraging words yesterday!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right on!

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Pat said...

I'm wit chew!

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here here!!! wanna race tomorrow?

11:32 PM  

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