Youth sports – a fine line between lesson and obsession

Another game, another loss. My son’s hockey team is 15 games into the season and they have not tasted victory.

I know, sports is not all about winning but unless we flip our culture on its’ head, winning is still an important factor in relation to the fun quotient in youth sports. From a very early age in youth sports, despite some well-intentioned policies such as not keeping score, kids understand what the goal is in team sports. And that goal is to score more than the other team.

So back to my son’s hockey team and their miserable slump. How does a parent balance the primary importance of their child just having fun with the underlying desire to win? Let’s cut the crap so to speak. We all know (well at least those of us who have played sports know) that there is an undeniable connection between your level of enjoyment and whether you were successful. With this knowledge, as a parent how can we respect ourselves and our children by peddling the same old cliches such as “just as long as you are having fun” when your child is experiencing loss after loss?

My take is different and it may not be popular with some of the more kinder, gentler parent-types. While winning at all costs may not be healthy concept, “as long as you are having fun” is just as unhealthy mentally for children. Why can we not have a middle ground with regard to the importance of winning? Why can’t it be “I hope you are having fun – do you think it would be even more fun if you won?”

I believe the game is usually more fun when attached to success. The lesson is that your child should strive to win each and every time knowing full well that losing is still a possible outcome.

We focus so much on the importance of lessons learned when our children lose in sport and for the most part I agree with this focus. However, there is one thing that losing cannot teach our children. It cannot instill the feeling of joy and camaraderie they will experience when they win as a team. That feeling is exclusive to winning in team sports.

When I look back at my best memories from my days in competitive sports most are attached to a team success. Yes we learn lessons from losing but sometimes those lessons still taste sour. Winning usually always tastes sweet.


Postscript: Drake’s team registered their first victory of the season on the weekend. Nothing could be more important than the win but the fact that Drake netted the game-winning goal late in the third period made it even sweeter for him. I hope the win is the first of many more for the team.

The blame game

Anyone who has gone through a marriage break-up may know about the unproductive exercise I simply call “the blame game” (real original, right?). I have engaged in this “game” over the past several years with my ex but I have vowed not to continue. It is a damaging game to all parties involved, including most importantly the children.

The problem is that when facing a party who is engaging in conduct which is about assigning blame you have to find a way to keep yourself above the fray and stick to the facts and hopefully get past the nastiness that may still be lingering (or as Chubbs Peterson said in Happy Gilmore, “go to your happy place”).

Rather than give you some deep philosophical diatribe on why staying away from the back-and-forth blaming is the best course of action I would like to give you some of my quick fixes to avoid joining your former partner “in the muck” so to speak:

  1. Leave the past where it belongs – in the past – this seems very logical but it is not always easy. Nobody enters into a marriage thinking “I know this is only short term”. When our expectations of marriage are not met we often store things in the vault about the other party and unlock them at the appropriate time, when we need to justify our position. Empty your marital vault and divest yourself of the contents. This will help you keep an eye on the two things that are most important – namely the present and the future.
  2. Blow off some steam – I am sure many of us get frustrated with the process when a marriage ends. The constant conflict can make you think “how did I ever marry this person”. Simply put when you feel like you have reached the end of your proverbial rope just find a physical outlet. Hit a punching bag, go for a run, it could be anything but doing this will make you more grounded when you have to deal with the pressures of divorce.
  3. Find a sounding board – I have two (thanks to my brother Dave and to my best friend Clayton for listening to me vent). It is cathartic to have an outlet aside from that punching bag or home gym which actually talks back and more importantly hears you. I would guess most people are looking for validation but having a fresh perspective from someone you respect may help you see the bigger picture.

Again, at the end of the day, looking forward and not backward will help you reach a better place. Remember, your kids want two happy, well-adjusted parents. Do your best to hold up your end of the bargain and you and your children will be better off in the long run.