What is 'Success' in Youth Sports?

The Jersey Watch Team
a youth sports coach helping an athlete from the sideline
a youth sports coach helping an athlete from the sideline
“Winning isn't everything” is a cliche that many coaches and parents roll their eyes at, but it's true.
There is so much that contributes to success in youth sports outside of just winning. Success isn’t just about the number of points on the scoreboard at the end of the game. Read more in this post to create a successful youth sports season for every player in your program.

The Effects of Too Much Pressure On Young Athletes

When winning is the only thing coaches and parents care about, the pressure placed on players gets to be too much. The overly competitive field of youth sports is intense enough as it is. The added pressure of being the best pulls all the fun out of the game. Just ask the 70% of young athletes that quit because it just wasn't fun anymore.
While the adoption of youth sports in the community can help bring it together, the pressure for constant success leads to higher stress levels for athletes. Knowing a costly mistake will make front-page news adds an unnecessary level of anxiety to every play.
A study from Ohio University found that 20% of soccer players experience high-stress levels after a loss. While nobody likes to lose, failing to win shouldn’t affect other aspects of life. When it comes to youth sports and academics, anxieties on the field can trickle into the classroom, and children begin to treat everything like a do-or-die competition. Losing can harm a child's self-esteem and self-worth when parents put winning ahead of fun and development.
Perhaps the most important reason why too much pressure on young athletes is harmful is the risk of injury. Children focused solely on winning are more likely to play through an injury, thus risking further or even permanent damage.

How To Define Success in Youth Sports

How do we move away from a "winning is everything" mentality and instead focus on development, performance, and sportsmanship? As youth sports coaches and parents, it's essential to guide your athletes on the path to success. Redefining that success is the first step in improving a child's experience on and off the field.

It Starts With the Coach

A child's coach is their authority figure and role model on the field. As such, a coach that drills winning into their heads at all costs has already done that child a disservice. Instead, we need coaches that focus on developing valuable skills and fundamentals that players can use for the rest of their lives.
Communication, teamwork, and ownership will aid them on the field, in the classroom, and eventually in the workplace. Since less than 2% of child athletes ever play professionally, they'll need to lean on those skills to succeed later in other aspects of life.
a youth sports coach encouraging his players
Coaches are key to a positive youth sports experience and in developing lifelong participation.

Promoting Positive Youth Sports Parenting

Your child isn't the next Michael Jordan or Tom Brady—or if they are, they'll discover it themselves.
However, they might be playing with or against the next Jordan or Brady, and can't appreciate being beaten by top talent if their parents only care about the scoreboard. Teach your children that their role on the team is just as important as the leading scorer or starting quarterback. Positive reinforcement is the most important thing you can do for a child, especially after a loss.

Being the Best Sports Parent

It's necessary to strike a balance between encouraging friendly competition and nurturing mental health. Make sure you're acting as a role model for your child, their teammates, and everyone else on the field. Show the same respect to opposing coaches and players that you would your own. Be in the moment, and enjoy the peewee game you're watching now rather than the college game you hope to be watching later. Let the coaches worry about the future.
Every game produces a winner and a loser. Youth sports shouldn’t define success and loss by the score at the end. Encouraging young athletes to take competitive risks is fine as long as they're doing so safely. For example, a game-winning three-point shot might get blocked by a talented defender.
Let your child know you're proud they went for it and never gave up. There's a difference between losing and being beaten. Competitors are beaten by other competitors; they never lose. Let your child call their own plays off the field. Forcing them to practice at home when they don't want to is the fastest way to turn them off from a sport. If they ask you to play catch, encourage it, don't force it. However, make sure they're striking an even balance with academics. As mentioned, very few athletes play at a professional level. Academics should be the foundation, not the backup plan.

Learning Lessons on the Bench

Not everybody gets equal playing time, especially when it comes to high school sports. Only the best players stay in the whole game, and your child may not be among them. Teaching them to adapt to their role as a backup player will strengthen their sense of teamwork. The last thing a parent should do is complain when their child isn't getting the "playing time they deserve."
Life is not necessarily fair. They can put in a ton of work, but the results don't always produce the most obvious reward. However, that doesn't diminish your kid’s role on the team. Remember, Tom Brady's backup quarterback still gets a Super Bowl ring.
youth soccer substitutes watching the game from the bench
Not every kid will be a superstar, but that doesn't mean they can't have a great experience being a part of the team.

Taking Steps to Create a Positive Youth Sports Experience

Develop a plan before your next season on what a successful season means to you. Whether you're an administrator, coach, or parent - you should have a goal in mind before the season starts for your players.
For most players, winning should be very low on the list of priorities, especially for recreational players and players under the age of 14. As players mature, more focus can be placed on results, but the primary goal should still be to develop skills throughout the year.
Make sure administrators, coaches, parents, and players are all aligned on the goals for the players and team prior to the season. When everyone is pointed in the same direction your team has a much higher chance of having a successful season.

Additional Resources

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