When The Beast Wins, Children Lose

A ten-year old student in an ELA class at one of my schools was asked to provide an argument for something he felt strongly about. He chose a sports related topic. This is what he wrote, unedited.

Parents, teachers, coaches and kids! I call on you to change the policy that kids have to try out for sports. It’s wrong to not let kids join sports because it hurts their self-esteem, because it builds a nasty sense of competition and because all kids deserve to play if they want. 

Some pooh-pooh the idea that a kids self-esteem gets hurt but how do you think it makes us feel? I’ll tell you how it feels, it feels TERRIBLE. It feels lie everyone is staring at us , feeling sorry for us. It makes us wonder if we’ll ever be good enough. The truth is our school, coaches or parents don’t think we’re good enough to participate. They’re supposed to make you feel stronger or better, not destroy your self-esteem and confidence.

Not allowing other kids to join sports also makes kids competitive with each other. In one survey, 18 out of 20 kids said they would rather make the team than stay friends with each other. In an interview with a student who made the team, this article said, “I really don’t hang out with any of my friends now who didn’t make the team. They don’t have the shirt we have. I don’t know, I just don’t see them any more. You might think competition brings out the best in kids and maybe it does when they’re older but in elementary school it makes kids mean and lonely.”

The most important reason not to make cuts is that all kids deserve to play. For goodness sakes!!!! We’re nine and ten years old. Isn’t this the time we should be learning skills, getting stronger and having fun? A lot of people say it’s just sports, that’s how it is. But we’re not pro ball players. All of us deserve a chance to get better.

Change this policy, please. Give us the fast legs and strong bodies we deserve. Let us all be the athlete we want to be. 

Interesting discussion topic.

I have three daughters who played multiple sports through high school and I coached basketball and softball for quite a few years.

But it was a very different time in terms of youth sports. It was not all-consuming and I could probably write a short book on the strong feelings I have about children and the parents and coaches who affect their lives.

The immersion and consumption of time in sports today at a very early age has to be witnessed in order to be understood. I think the biggest fear for me is how it affects families and the time they spend together.

Or don’t.

It’s time that will never be returned to them and it passes so very quickly.

I understand that making cuts as it relates to some teams are the nature of sports and I think some kids learn from these disappointments, but some things this student said are pretty sad; specifically about the interaction between kids who make teams and those who don’t, and what competition brings out in children.
At younger ages, it should never be about the score. Who wins is irrelevant. How good you are at 8-9-10, is irrelevant. We’ve all seen stars at ten who burn out or fall behind others as they get older; stars at ten years old who never play a high school game. Coaches and parents lose sight of the fact that young children who choose to play sports should, as this child mentions, focus on basic skills and development, not winning and losing. Can both be accomplished? Of course. But all too often one takes control of the other. It’s the nature of the beast.

Most importantly, children at that age should be having fun. Sadly, and all too often, that simple goal is not part of a parent or coaches mindset.

Children should be allowed to be children and families should be allowed to enjoy those few precious years together.

Sports is a great outlet and competition is healthy as long as both are done intelligently and balanced properly.

I was going to conclude by saying that I hope this young man figures it out and finds sports to be a positive experience, but it’s really not his decision, is it?

So I hope the adults in his life figure it out and provide this child with a positive experience. Lord knows our children can use all the positive experiences they can get.

 

Unfortunately, it’s not always provided by those who have the opportunity to do so.

53 thoughts on “When The Beast Wins, Children Lose

  1. Edmark M. Law

    In Hong Kong, it’s all about competition from the start. To be eligible to enroll in a good elementary school, the kids should have studied at a reputable kindergarten (which is also not easy to get in), have studied at least 3 skills like art, singing, swimming, etc. from accredited institutions (piano isn’t included because it’s expected that everbody knows it!). To be admitted to a good high school, the story is the same but the requirements are a lot harder to meet. From there, it goes downhill…

    During the last year of high school, all students take a difficult exam given by the government (called HKDSE nowadays) with a passing rate of 35 to 40%. Of the ones who passed, only about half of them would be able to study at a university.

    And in HK, you can’t just apply to any university program that you want. The number of points you get in the HK government-provided examination will dictate which program you can apply to. I don’t know what system they use today, but back then, A+ is equivalent to 5 points and there are 8 exams (a total of 40 points). If you want to go to Law school, you at least need 30 pts. For Medical school, 36 pts.

    My situation was good, since I could choose whichever degree I want. However, those who want to become doctors but only got 35 pts. or less can only fulfill their dreams by applying to a university overseas.

    The funny thing is if you’re in the workforce for at least a couple of years, nobody would give a flying stuff about you previous “achievements” during your school years, they would only care about how good you are at your job.

    As always, great post btw.

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    1. George Post author

      That’s crazy, Edmark. The competition starting at five years old and the skills required just to get into a desired elementary school? How do most parents feel about the process or do they accept it because it’s been part of their lives and culture for so long, it’s just expected? Are the children of the same mindset? Is there division between friends who obtain the higher scores or get into better schools? Do children and parents simply associate with those in their own institutions or is there crossover? Does this come into play when they’re older as it relates to relationships or is everyone past it by then?
      Very interesting.

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      1. Edmark M. Law

        Indeed and it’s very unfortunate…

        Most parents would push their children to perform harder. One time, I saw a mother on the street shouting angrily at his son because he only got 98% in his exam. They would enroll their children to lots of tutorials as well as if their time at school and the time doing homework aren’t enough. Also, in HK, most schools give at least 10 types of homework every day. Of course, Fridays and before long holidays have more. In fact, before summer vacation, all students are required to complete 10 thick workbooks to be submitted next school year. Some schools find this practice ludicrous so they tried to lessen the homework. But guess what? The parents were outraged and would say something like, “my friend’s daughter has 14 homework a day. Why did my son only have 6?”

        Oh, just last year, I saw on TV a 6 yo. kid crying since he wasn’t able to enter at a good elementary school. When the reporter interviewed him, I was very surprised at his reply. He said, “I don’t want to study at a rubbish school”. This made me question what kind of example his parents set…

        Those children can’t do anything since both their families and teachers are pressuring them to do better all the time and failure isn’t an option.

        It’s to be expected here. Children who got higher grades would hang out with each other though there are exceptions. For example, the top 1 and top 2 are rarely friends if ever due to their intense rivalry. Yes, those who got higher grades get into better school.

        It depends. However, parents would always say to their children to never associate with anyone who could be a bad influence. While I agree with that sentiment, their definition of “bad influence” is skewed. For example, when I was in the final year of high school, I was already doing magic semi-professionally (I was a demonstrator of magic props at a magic shop). Most parents would view me as a “bad influence” since I was doing a useless hobby instead of studying.

        People in HK are naturally competitive. Perhaps, this is a product of a faulty system which rewards only the best and treats mistakes as a bad thing.

        A little healthy competition here and then is fine, but you don’t want to develop strong and lifelong rivalries that interfere with good relationships.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. George Post author

        I’m still trying to get my arms around all you wrote about. So the adults push the system and the child grows up and pushes the same system. Has anyone ever tried to alter it, even a little bit? If so I imagine they were met with strong resistance. I was aware of the focus on learning and education there but had no idea of the degree to which it was taken. Thanks so much for sharing this. As always, you are a wealth of information..:)

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      3. Edmark M. Law

        The children don’t don’t much of a say about the matter since from the beginning, they’ve been told that to succeed in life, you have to ace all the exams. Almost nobody realize here that treating mistake as a bad thing would hinder children’s creativity. Perfection is overrated. So, I don’t like to make anything “perfect” since if it’s already perfect, then I won’t be able to improve it any further.

        It’s to be expected that most of the children exposed to this system will have the same mindset when they grow up. It’s a vicious cycle.

        HK students have consistently scored high in comprison to other students in the world. For example, HK got second in Math (Singapore got the first spot), and 4th in Science in an international assessment last year. So here lies the problem. Those who support the current system always use this argument to defend their position…

        You’re welcome George.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. DailyMusings

    Our school hockey team had 40 boys try out for 8 open slots. Very disappointing for most. Another team was formed that anyone could join- so they are not in the league, not “official” but they get to play, get to have a chance at it even if they aren’t great players. I know what you mean about the kids who are on teams- they all hang out together and seem uninterested in anyone who is not on the team. I can remember it being like that when I was in school. I never liked sports and always wished there was an opt out- I would much rather have been doing crafts!

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    1. George Post author

      I understand being cut for certain teams, that’s just part of the game. It’s the intensity and competition at young ages that concerns me. Crafts as much safer..:)

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  3. Nancy

    Very well said and kudos to the young man who made his voice heard!
    I, myself, am not athletic in any way but, my husband and children are. My husband has even coached and ran a summer baseball camp for children just the same age as that young man. I have always been very proud of the way he presented the game to them. He always stressed that the focus was on learning the game and learning how to be part of a team. It was about respecting each other, being good sports and about improving whatever skills they had. It should be fun at that age.
    My feeling is that kids in general, don’t enjoy enough free unstructured time where they can just play sandlot baseball or pick up basketball. No adults involved…just kids.

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    1. George Post author

      Two great points, Nancy. Your husband coaches and teaches the way it should be done and I’ve always believed unstructured games, in a world of structure, are critical to a child having fun and playing for the pure enjoyment of the game.

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  4. Osyth

    Ouch. Sport is certainly important and it does teach essential skills and not just the physical but the problem lies with adults who either dream of the an Olympic medal hanging round their childs necks (don’t get me started, really just don’t) or use organised sports as an excuse not to get out with their kids and just breath the air and have fun and explore this wonderful outside we have if we care to look. What you have written hits the nail on the head, I need hardly say anything at all except to agree wholeheartedly with you. Breeding teamwork is really really good (and you can do that many other environments than simply a sports arena) but overbreeding competitiveness and instilling in children the notion that they deserve to be athletes is, in the end, a ruinous road to follow. Ouch.

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    1. George Post author

      I take it you’ve had some experience with the Gold Medal mindset?..:) What you’ve written is spot on and I agree completely…sometimes kids just need time to be kids.

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      1. Osyth

        With four daughters it’s probably inevitable that I came across it more than once. I won’t block up your comments with a diatribe but I could certainly cite many many incidents. Children are children for such a short time and the best advice I ever had was from an Irish friend of mine, father to three one of which is adopted and along with is wife my exemplars of good parenting. He said to me when my eldest was about 18 months ‘go with her – that’s all just go with her. I don’t mean give in to every demand and let her rule the roost, I mean that this journey you have embarked on as a mummy can be the greatest and most fulfilling adventure of your life if you watch and listen to her and simply go with her. If you resist her and try to mould her to what you think she should be you will have a miserable time and raise a sad maybe angry adult who isn’t what she was destined to be. Because in the end, she knows how her heart beats, she knows how her blood runs and what makes it rush, she knows what delights her, she knows what makes her sad. She knows because she is she and you are not. And just when you think you know what it is she will change her mind and be distracted by something else. Go with her. Be happy. Enjoy the adventure.’ I can quote it so confidently because I have it framed on my wall.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. George Post author

        Wow…that might’ve he best advice on parenting I’ve heard. It’s difficult for so many parents because have their own ideas of what a child should be or so. To allow them that freedom while guiding their lives must be very special for both the parent and the child. How beautiful an expression of love. I think I might have to buy a frame now..:)
        Thank you Osyth..:)

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Almost Iowa

    I was a volunteer dad for one of the greatest coaches of all time. Ron understood that his job was to develop character while entertaining the kids with sport. Winning or losing was incidental.

    One afternoon while working with the 10 year olds, he turned to me and said, “Did you see that? We just made a giant leap forward.”
    “Huh?”
    “When I was talking, every kid’s head was pointed in the same direction.”

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  6. Lynn

    What an insightful young man who wrote this piece George. As a young person, I hated sports for many of the reasons he describes. I wasn’t what I would describe as an athlete. Was that because I wasn’t athletic or was that because I wasn’t given the opportunity to actually develop those skills because I didn’t feel good enough? Don’t know. What I can tell you is I am way more athletic now as an adult, enjoying sport for the simple joy of enjoying sport. I hope this young man finds the same kind of enjoyment as he matures & grows.

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    1. George Post author

      You know, Lynn, I played both organized and unstructured games when I was to get. What I remember and enjoyed the most were the unstructured games. The reasons why are many.
      Like you, I think many never gravitate to sports at a young age because of this very reason. So sad.

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  7. Helen Devries

    Sensible and articulate young man. I don’t remember that there were representative teams in my school life until the last two years of grammar school…it was all red v yellow, blue v green in games sessions.
    Nothing will ever persuade me to agree that hockey – legs turning blue in the arctic gales – was fun, but I owe a lot to teachers who helped me overcome some of the lack of co ordination caused by my problems with vision and allowed me to enjoy being outside with friends, learning to work together.

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    1. George Post author

      You’re so right, Joy. Children have such a brief time to be children. Why do we insist on making them more than they need to be. There will be plenty of time for that.

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  8. Ann Coleman

    My husband also coached kids’ sports for many years, and his main objective was to teach each and every child how to be the best athlete they could possibly be. And on most teams, that was appreciated, but on a few others, he was criticized for “not trying hard enough to win.” (Which meant not permanently benching the kids who weren’t the best players.) And the weird thing was, his teams won most of their games! So I guess the idea was that we decide at the age of ten who is “good” and who isn’t? And then those that aren’t never get the chance to become a good athlete? That’s a really skewed value system, in my opinion.
    Later, when my son went to a large high school, he didn’t make the cut for either the basketball or the soccer team, and I saw what that did to his self-confidence. To this day, he believes he’s not good at either of those sports. I know that trying out for teams is appropriate for that age and not making the teams also taught him to handle adversity. Which he did really well, by joining the volleyball and racquetball teams instead and had a wonderful time. But still, even at that age, what this boy says about telling kids they’re not good enough has a ring of truth to it.
    I hope this young man finds a way to play sports and develop whatever talent he happens to have. Barring that, I hope he realizes that even at such a young age, he’s a very good writer!

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    1. George Post author

      When I coached at the younger levels I always gravitated toward the kid who want the best player and struggled the most but showed the most enjoyment when they played. You can’t teach teach the joy of playing a game. While I understand cuts at a high school level is inevitable, it still bothers me. But I also understand it’s a learning experience.
      Your husband seemed to have the same mindset as I did and we both knew the same parents who thought winning was the most important thing at the expense of another child’s playing time.
      You’re right about this young man and his writing skills. He needs some work…:) but he knows how to articulate his thoughts and feelings in a very powerful way.
      Thanks, Ann.

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  9. roughwighting

    That 10-year-old student is wise beyond his years. I agree with him (and you) unequivocally.
    By the way, if that 10-year-old doesn’t ‘make’ it in sports, he’ll end up being a knock-out in the writing world…!

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  10. sportsattitudes

    When I was in the 7th grade I was the third-string QB on my junior high team. We had an amazing squad (for that age) and raced through a six-game season with no team coming close to beating us. Beating teams 35-0. No game was ever in doubt. Yet, neither I or the second-string QB got in for even one play in any of those six games all season. I didn’t bother with football again until my senior year and that was a short-lived comeback due to injury, I have always felt all team members should be as engaged in the process as much as possible. As a coach I know I could find a way to get all my kids in for at least one play every game without tipping the scales towards the eventual outcome. It only can benefit from having all team members actively participating and feeling like they are connected to the process. That’s what I thought of when I read this…trying to reconcile at a young age why my efforts didn’t even get acknowledged for one instance. Getting cut is rough…and in some cases…so is making the team.

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    1. George Post author

      Great point, Bruce. Sometimes making a team is just as tough. Getting kids in to play at an early age is so important. In your circumstance, winning as big as you did, there was no reason at all why that coach couldn’t get both of his other quarterbacks in the game along with other players who probably never saw the field. Apparently winning is not enough these days. You also have to win big. But the examples in high school and college are being set every week. Very sad.

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  11. reocochran

    I like kids who run around, go the wrong way on the field or like one grandson did, Sat in the middle of the field to pull his soccer socks up. His Mom was yelling (“Get up!” Get off the field!”) as I was giggling. 😀

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      1. reocochran

        I am belated in my reply but the innocence part you gathered was how it makes sports fun.
        I do admire training and practicing to become better. Everyone needs to find their “bliss.” I like the people who have mentioned how each person needs to feel valuable to the team. My youngest brother ran, both track and cross country. I thought it was awesome in the winters, he was the humble waterboy for the basketball team. He believed in himself due to sports, while teachers had written “sloppy,” “slow,” or given him C’s and D’s my wise parents kept on encouraging him. Finally, getting high marks on college tests (ACT and SAT) helped to discover he just needed extra time to figure his answers out. Slow processing but smart. 🙂 Long story, but deciding to run, keep a log of his miles in junior high school led him to go out for teams. This made him who he was meant to be, George. He received bachelor’s from Cornell, running for them, then next was a Tarheel at UNC for his Master’s and PhD at Kent State. He taught over twenty years inner city Cleveland kids. His parents’ night speech told them, “Your children have the seeds to accomplish anything, with your love and support.” He shook each student’s (in his learning disabilities center classroom) hand, as they arrived and demonstrated respect. And Never wrote slow or sloppy on their papers! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. George Post author

        Your brother is a perfect example of what the right kind of encouragement can do. In races and in life, it’s never how you start. It’s how you finish that’s most important..:)

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  12. candidkay

    Amazes me how little opportunity we give kids to play sports just to play–not to excel, not to become champions–just for the love of moving their bodies. We’ve lost something when kids must be “skilled” in a sport by third grade just to be considered for the team.

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  13. In My Cluttered Attic

    They say competition builds character. But… perhaps we should be asking ourselves just what kind of characters competition is actually building? Particularly when so many professional athletes today are getting into serious trouble.

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