Should your kids really be playing hockey or any sport at a highly competitive level? Are there some serious, long-term, mental costs to their involvement?
When it comes to youth sports, there are always two camps that line up on either side of this issue of whether serious competition is good or bad for kids. There are those who strongly feel that competition is a really destructive thing that kills children’s fun, causes them to prematurely drop out of the activity and leaves them emotionally scarred for life! This camp believes that too many young athletes emerge from their youth sports experiences damaged, with low self-esteem and a poor self-image and, because of this, competition should be completely eliminated for kids 12 or 13 and under.
The other camp argues that the world is a highly competitive place and that in order to be able to successfully compete as an adult, kids need to learn how to handle themselves under the pressure of competition. Playing on a competitive hockey team teaches kids extremely valuable life skills and therefore, helps them prepare for the “real” world. This camp believes that if you eliminate any and all competition, the kids will be hurt in the long run, leaving them “soft” and unprepared for the pressure cooker of life that lies ahead!
So who’s right?
When it comes to this question, “Competition, is it good or bad?” My feeling is that the correct answer is a resounding “YES!” Competition is good or bad depending upon the adults involved! Whether your child has a positively life-changing experience playing hockey or is traumatized by it depends almost entirely upon the coaches, parents and league administrators involved.
I’m of the strong opinion that competition, when handled well, can actually help kids learn more, improve faster and reach a higher level of excellence than they would be able to without the on-going challenge. This is because, the better, more skilled your opponents, the greater opportunity you as an athlete have to lift the level of your own game. But keep this in mind: You can only have healthy competition for the kids, when you have healthy adults in charge!
When competition is kept in the hands of positive adult role models, your kids will grow and blossom from their sports experiences. They’ll develop a life-long love affair with physical activity and, in the process, learn how to: master new physical skills; play as a member of a team, willingly sacrificing “I” for “WE;” effectively handle setbacks, losses and adversity; meet with both success and failure with dignity and class; be a good sport; work hard and pursue excellence in everything that they do; conduct themselves with honesty and integrity; and most important, from all of their modeling of these healthy adult role models, they will learn how to pass their experiences on to the next generation!
WHAT POSITIVE ROLE MODELS BELIEVE
- The games are for the child, NOT the adult
- The true purpose of competition is to teach invaluable life lessons
- Making mistakes and failing are critical to a child’s learning
- You build mental toughness by being supportive and positive
- The child’s happiness and emotional well-being are always MOST IMPORTANT
- Winning and especially losing are nothing more than learning opportunities
- I need to keep my own emotions, stirred up by the competition, away from the kids
- Athletes need to feel emotionally safe in order to learn and perform at their best
- There is always far more important things at stake than the outcome of a game
- Kids’ emotions are important and coaches/parents should listen to them
- The opponent is someone to be treated with respect
When negative adult role models oversee competition, the experience of your children will most oftentimes be filled with heartache, anxiety and potentially long lasting emotional trauma. Coaches and parents, who have lost their perspective of the game and don’t really understand the true purpose of youth sports, end up turning the game and competition into a pressure-filled nightmare for kids. As a consequence, the lessons that children end up inadvertently taking away from their experience may leave them handicapped for life. These children learn to: hate their sport and physical activity in general; fear taking risks and trying new things; believe that mistakes and failure are bad things to be avoided at all costs; think that competing is emotionally dangerous and definitely not fun; feel that they are inadequate as a person; come to understand that winning is the most important thing in life, not how you go about doing it; and, most alarming, from all of their modeling of unhealthy adult mentors, they will potentially learn to mistreat the next generation exactly how they were mistreated!
WHAT NEGATIVE ROLE MODELS BELIEVE
- My needs as a parent/coach are much more important than my child/athlete’s
- Mistakes, failures and losses reflect badly on me and my reputation
- You build mental toughness in athletes by yelling at and being hard on them
- Being positive and building self-esteem makes kids “wimpy”
- Communication is a one-way street. I talk and the kid should be quiet and listen
- Winning is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing in competitive sports, NOT learning
- Cheating/bending the rules is acceptable as long as you can get away with it
- Fun is something you have at an amusement park! Competing is serious business
- The better, more skilled athletes deserve most of my attention
- I can be nicer to a player/my child when they are performing well
- The opponent is your enemy and someone to be disrespected and destroyed
- Mistakes and failures are bad and should be dealt with harshly
In summary, competition for young athletes of ALL ages is a double-edged sword. When adults who have the sport in the proper perspective wield it in the right way, it can motivate kids to entertain big dreams, cut down obstacles in their way, and learn to believe in themselves. However, when competition is left in the hands of coaches and/or parents who have lost their perspective of what’s really important here, it can shred their dreams, kill their self-esteem and leave them emotionally wounded for life!