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Sport is now a major part of many children’s lives, with almost 40 million children aged 5-18 participating. While this is a staggering figure, what is truly concerning is the number of players that drop out. Ippon Magazine suggests that over-emphasis on winning is the biggest contributor to declining participation rates in youth sports. So, where does this need to win attitude come from? And how can we support youth sport to stop the dropout?
Whether a team wins or loses shouldn’t matter, at least this is the view that Olympic Champion Duff Gibson takes to competitions at youth level. Teaching children the supposed ‘importance of winning’ ultimately suggests that losing in sport is bad. This mentality pushes children out of sport because the emphasis on competition and success is not the only reason that many choose to participate in sport. Rather, many children participate for fun and enjoyment, a chance to meet and socialise with friends who have the same interests. By teaching that winning is the most important part of sport, ultimately makes children feel humiliated and upset when they lose. A survey of young people in sport found that more than 45% of children had been insulted by their coach most likely because they lost or did not play well.
Humiliating young players in this way does not encourage them to work harder or play better, in fact it has the opposite effect. Children will, most commonly, avoid situations where they may lose. This creates a scenario where players are not able to cope in challenging situations in both sport and other areas of life. Rather than creating kids who persevere, it encourages them to flake out and quit. Many people believe that sport at this level should primarily by a fun experience where children learn new skills rather than feel the pressure of competition. Ultimately, teaching children that winning is the only important thing only has the opposite effect. Rather than encouraging children it discourages them and lowers their feelings of self-worth. This is not to say that competition should not be featured in youth sport, some of the best moments in sport are the challenges faced in a competitive environment, but the way that winning and losing are addressed should be changed or children will simply not want to participate.
While winning (or not winning) may be the biggest contributor to dropping out, there are many others. A study by England Athletics found multiple reasons, from unfriendly clubs and coaches to economic and financial barriers like travel and fees. Players and coaches should be aware of all of these reasons so that they can ensure that participants are consistently motivated. Clubs can often put sports players off as some competitors are given more attention and time than others. This is great if you are a player that is successful and offered lots of support from your coach but this is very off putting for those players who receive less attention and see less improvement. Aims in youth sport should be completely inclusive and coaches should work hardest to keep players inspired rather than push for success. If young sports people are kept interested there will be fewer drop outs and also more developed, confident and prepared sports people ready to compete. The best coaches will always be those that nurture all players, not just those with the most talent.