Winning at All Costs...Does That Really Help Your Team?

As a coach I certainly recognize that one of the main purposes of any sport is to win. However in the context of youth sports the prioritization and obsession with winning above all else is a dangerous message to send to young athletes.

All too often I see softball coaches (and I'm sure the same indictment can probably be charged against coaches in many others sports as well) so wrapped up in winning a game that they are oblivious to how they manage their rosters; meaning which girls play and don't play. Now before you accuse me of being a whiny parent let me frame it a little differently. You see from my perspective, having coached over 600 fastpitch softball games, ALL coaches have the responsibility to use their rosters appropriately --given that it is youth softball not the 7th game of the World Series.

All coaches grapple with how to manage a big roster. Coaching a team of 14-15 girls or more can be difficult. Usually it is fairly easy to determine your starting nine or ten (if a DP is used). However how does a coach use the remainder of his or her roster? If every girl on the team works hard in practice and has a sufficient skills to play at the level they are playing should they not be given an opportunity to play?

A coach needs to assess the type of game and individual game situation to PRIORITIZE as much as possible every player's full participation in the game. In other words is it a championship game in a tournament versus a fairly meaningless fall game or friendly. Is it a league game or a preseason game? Is the score 1-1 or 10-1?

Whether the girl is 8 or 18 the same rules should apply. If the game situation allows it ALL players should get an at bat, be able to pinch run or play an inning or two in the field. A coach that consistently disregards this will find a diminished enthusiasm among those girls not playing, which can lead to a diminished team chemistry and girls quitting the program. And for what purpose?

The sad thing is if the coach put her or himself in the shoes of the kids not playing he or she would realize how painful not playing can be to a young la. It impacts her self-esteem and overall self-confidence. And it is all so UNNECESSARY!

If you're up 5-0 in the last inning give a girl sitting on the bench or cheering her butt off for the last 90 minutes an at bat. How hard can that be? If you're up 8-0 in the third inning give your third pitcher a couple of innings --particularly if it is a relatively meaningless game.

Winning at all costs is ridiculous when it comes to youth sports and coaches who continue to implement that strategy should be reprimanded or removed. All young athletes, regardless of age, skill level or level of competition deserve an opportunity to participate. If not the coach is robbing them of the extremely valuable life lessons sports can teach.

At the end of the day or the end of your softball player's career she will not remember the scores, as only adults do that, but rather she will remember the joy of competing and the opportunity to be an active part of something bigger than she was. That is why it's called a "team."

What do you think?

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