In all sporting events, there will always be a winner and a loser.

In youth sports, the sting of defeat can be particularly traumatic for kids at this age haven’t yet developed the maturity and mental toughness to deal with a loss. They will feel ashamed and think of themselves as failures.

And without the guidance and support of their coach and parent, they may feel so distressed that they may want to give up the game entirely. And if the parent or coach has a “win-at-all” costs attitude, they may worsen the situation and lead the child to pull away from the sport further.

“The primary goal… should be to develop desirable psychological and social characteristics as well as physical skills and fitness… Winning, should be viewed as a consequence of the athlete’s physical and psychological development and not the primary focus of athletic involvement.” – (Cumming, 323)

It is natural to associate winning with success and to lose as failing. However, if young athletes are taught that there can be value in losing and that winning isn’t everything, their time spent playing sports will have a far better outcome and give them the skills and attitude to do better in life.

Young athletes who are only just discovering the harsh reality of loss may be surprised to learn that there is a “right” way to lose. The final score may say that your team has lost but what if the individual met all their personal goals during that game? Yes, there is naturally disappointment in a team loss, but there can still be an inner celebration for a personal triumph.

At the higher level of sports, losing can be especially impactful as it has an effect on the professional athlete’s livelihood and reputation. But at the youth sports level, there is no money involved except for the registration fee required for them to participate. Because there are no big contracts on the line, there should be no pressure on the part of the young athletes or the coaches, and their main focus should be on the enjoyment of the experience.

When a young athlete is taught not to direct all their emotions on winning, they appreciate the lessons learned from defeat. Their focus becomes less about winning and more on improvement, teamwork, and humility.

Teaching kids the “winning is everything” leads them to completely ignore the positive reasons why they joined sports in the first place. There is no denying that there can be great misery and heartbreak at suffering a loss, especially when the athlete feels they gave it their all. However, the best competitors learn from the loss and use the lessons they learn to strategically apply it in future games and build character.