Defining “Winning” for Young Athletes

At a recent meet for my daughter’s swim team, I saw several youngsters who performed wonderfully in their events, but were nonetheless disappointed because other swimmers finished the heat ahead of them.  In every case the parents responded precisely as they should have, stressing how well they did compared to previous races, praising their effort, etc.  But alas, it was of little comfort to the kids, who just wanted to “win.”  My daughter is no different.  When she jumped out of the water after each of her events, her first instinct was to see how she fared compared to her fellow competitors.  So how can we help our young athletes define “winning,” and to appreciate their successes, even if they don’t perform better than their fellow competitors?

Life is a competition

First of all, I am not going to suggest that outperforming others has absolutely no importance.  During our adult lives we are competing against others, be it for a good job, a promotion, or the favor of a potential mate.  But with the wisdom that comes over time, we realize that in order to enjoy some victories in our life, we have to focus inward rather than outward.  In other words, we have to work on improving ourselves relative to ourselves.  Time spent looking at the performances of our competitors or at their trophy cases is time wasted.

Internal benchmarks

For parents and coaches of athletes, changing this focus will take time and effort.  Your child athlete will benefit from a regular dose of encouragement and reminders about the progress they are making, be it an  improved stroke, shaving a few seconds off their time, or even an improved attitude.  With concerted effort, your young athletes will start to focus on these internal benchmarks, and the victories and trophies will take care of themselves.