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Is the "Soccer Mentality" Ruining Youth Sports?

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The "Soccer Mentality" is sweeping the country. The phenomenon, which is being perpetuated by overly cautious and "soft" parents, has an "every kid deserves a trophy", and a "winning isn't everything" mentality. Kids are being taught at a very early age, that winning means very little, and it is certainly ok to lose, as long as you are having fun. After youth sporting events all over the country, the losing teams celebrate with ice cream after athletic contests, and can often be seen running the bases after a little league game where their team was blown out by 10 runs. The results of the contest don't seem to matter to parents and coaches. All that matters is that the kids had fun, all had equal playing time, and no one got a bloody nose or bruised arm.

Is this mentality really benefitting the youth of today?

The Soccer Mentality:

First, let me say that the Soccer Mentality is a generic term, and absolutely doesn't apply only to soccer. This mentality however, is one that has become far too prevalent in youth sports today. Coaches who instruct under this mentality are partially responsible for making our kids soft.

I recall a commercial I saw running on TV a few months ago, that had a father and son walking off the field after a youth football game. The son was carrying a trophy, and on the bottom was the word "participant" or something to that nature. The father asked the young boy to see the trophy, and looked in disgust at the word "participant", because his son's team had won the game. He peeled off the plate with the word written on it, took out a marker, wrote the word "champ(s), and handed it back to his son. He patted his boy on the shoulder as they got into the car. Now, this happened to be a car commercial, but it firmly illustrates the "every kid deserves a trophy" idea that is prevalent in the Soccer Mentality of today.

I remember when I was in grade school and we had Field Day at the end of the year. This was always one of my favorite days of the school year. We would do the 50 yard dash, the sack race, the three-legged-race, egg toss and softball throw. The top 3 boys and girls from each event would get a ribbon. Blue was for first, red for second and white for third. If you received no ribbons for finishing in the top 3, you would get a green "participation" ribbon. I can remember fondly coming inside after Field Day to compare our awards with our friends. Sure, you kinda felt bad for the kids who only received a green ribbon, but that was life - there are winners and losers in everything.

Now, fast forward 25 years. My son is in his first Field Day at his new elementary school. There is no 50 yard dash. There is no sack race. There is no softball toss. Instead, there are games that promote fairness and equality. There is a relay race with balloons. BALLOONS! There is a station where you draw a self-portrait of yourself with sidewalk chalk! Another station has volunteers helping kids hop over cones and kick a soccer ball into a net...but there is no sense of urgency, and there is no method to their game. Waiter-Waiter is a game where the kids fill up plastic cups with water, place them on a tray, and try to carry them past a line without spilling. After Field Day is over, each kid receives a nice ribbon stating they participated in the events.

What is this actually doing for our kids? The teachers might as well have taken them on another field trip to the Stanley Whittman museum!

Finally, my son is involved in intramurals through the school. They participate a few times a week either before school starts, or after it ends. It lasts about 45-60 min, and they play games like floor hockey, basketball, scooter soccer and dodgeball(with foam balls). For the third time in 4 months, my wife had to take a call from my son's teacher, claiming the gym teacher made him sit out for being too aggressive. Too aggressive! This is sports! This is intramurals that kids can sign up for, not something they are all made to do in gym class! Sports are designed to be competitive. My wife had to speak to the gym teacher because he wanted my son to take a break from intramurals for a while, until he could come back with a "better mind set". We later found out from my son that the gym teacher was participating in the games, in a way designed to promote equality for the weaker team. This made my son mad because the gym teacher's involvement was preventing the other team from winning. It took me everything to not march my butt down to that school and have some words with the teacher.

Unfortunately, these are all examples of the Soccer Mentality that has become a part of so many kids up-bringings. What is this teaching our kids - that it's alright to lose? That competing is bad? That everybody wins?

How football can help mold young men:

Football is one of the best sports to promote healthy competition. It teaches kids important life lessons that they are able to carry with them into adulthood; lessons such as teamwork, discipline, accountability, toughness and hard work. For me as a youth, losing taught me just as much, if not more, than winning. We never celebrated losing, but we certainly learned from it. We may have had to run extra in practice after a loss, or we sometimes would make some position changes to better set us up for success in the future. We would do up-downs, bear crawls and hills. Often, we would do one-on-one tackling drills - not as a punishment, but as reinforcement. We learned that losing was not good, and winning felt a hell of a lot better.

Kids learn to respect coaches that are hard on them. Good coaches know how to motivate each kids personality, without demeaning them. They encourage hard work, and support individuals who show this through positive reinforcement, increased playing time, and premium positions. Kids who attend practices regularly, show good listening skills and leadership are the ones who are usually elected team captains. This hierarchy is also important in youth sports, as it can help separate leaders from followers, and also help kids to develop necessary leadership skills and teamwork concepts; something they will continue to use all through life.

Youth football seasons usually end in some type of playoff format. This is designed to separate the top teams from the rest of the pack. Those top teams are often rewarded with championship trophys or medals for the team members, and some orginazations have a special year-end banquet to honor the winners.

Our town, surprisingly, also has an All-Star team. This is a great reward for kids who worked very hard thoughout the season, as they are able to continue their season in one final game pitting the best against the best. For those kids that made the All-Star game, it is a great personal accomplishment that they can be very proud of. For those who didn't make it, it can serve as motivation to improve the following season. Some towns don't believe in All-Star games, because they believe it singles kids out, and they want to promote equality and fairness, but football is designed to be competitive and teach life lessons. Not everything in life is always going to be fair, and today's youths should learn this at a young age.

I am a firm believer that youth sports, particularly football, can help build character in our youths. The Soccer Mentality is setting kids up to fail later in life. Sometimes hard lessons are the best lessons learned, and kids need to realize this at a young age. Parents are doing their kids no good by coddling them, and teaching them that "everyone is a winner" no matter what. In life, you win some and you lose some - and so should be the landscape of youth sports today.