Disclaimer: I hate participation trophies and believe there should be a winner and a loser in sporting events.
Kids should feel the pain of losing and the thrill of winning because real life doesn’t reward participation. However, I'm not a fan of the way some coaches in youth sports are using this strategy to win: exploiting the other team's weaknesses. The idea of benefitting from another's weakness works in war and adult sports but doesn't belong in a U8 soccer game.
Coaching kids to be competitive and to give it everything they have is a great thing to do. However, coaching kids to be competitive and look for an opponent's weaknesses is a dangerous thing to do—especially to a kid. I'm not a child phycologist, but teaching this mentality to kids seems dangerous and even detrimental if children take this "strategy" and apply it outside of sports and in their relationships.
Let's be honest. We are competitive and love to win. We want to win arguments. We want to win at being the better friend. We want to win at loving someone more than they love us. And it's okay to strive for those things based on our abilities. However, it gets dangerous when we look at someone else's weaknesses to gain an advantage. Some of the most destructive arguments of which I have been part were centered around my wanting to win the argument and attack my opponent's weaknesses to gain an advantage. Did youth sports and bad coaching cause me to do this? No, it was my own decision, but youth sports and bad coaching have taught me to foul the player that can't shoot free throws, pitch to the 9th hitter in the lineup, steal on the catcher that doesn't have an arm, and full-court press the team that can't move the basketball. At what point did youth sports move from having fun and learning fundamentals to a soccer coach acting like he just signed a 5-year contract with the team's sponsor, Marple Heating and Cooling (great company, by the way)?
Any coach will tell you that's important to teach proper techniques (shooting, dribbling, and fielding) young because they will turn into habits that will last a lifetime, but what about the technique of how to study your opponent's weaknesses? Will that last a lifetime? Absolutely! In fact, kids will likely take those bad habits and apply them to their relationships.
What I find amazing is that everyone hates bullying at school but applauds the Little League coach for intentionally walking the 3rd, 4th, and 5th hitters to load the bases for the 6th hitter—who has a 109 batting average. Some coaches strategically teach kids to bully in sports but dress it up as "strategy."
I believe we need to call a timeout in youth sports and get back to this technic: "Just give it everything you've got—leave it all on the field/court." A youth sports coach shouldn't care about the strengths and weaknesses of the other team but focus instead on winning with the team he is coaching.
Winning isn't everything. Winning at the expense of someone else's weaknesses is the worst thing. Let's stop teaching the fundamentals of uncovering an opponent's weaknesses in youth sports, because it has the potential to become a habit.
written by: mark bland