Participation more important than competition when kids take to the field

Tim Gavel 22 July 2020 16
Tim Gavel coaching

Good to see they are all listening to the coach. Photo: Supplied.

Over the years in Canberra, I have coached and managed a wide range of sports from juniors to seniors. I’m sure many of you have done the same.

When I have been coaching junior soccer and rugby with children aged from five to 10 years, my approach was based on the principle that I should be encouraging participation.

Once I became involved with the older age groups, the intensity lifted, but once again there was a focus on the enjoyment of the sport and the enjoyment of working alongside others. I quickly found out that if kids liked it, they would be back the following week.

In this current day and age of choice, many will opt for screen time over physical activity, which is why I felt as though it was important to make each and every child feel as though they were winners. If that meant every child was given an opportunity to captain the team or kick goals or be goalkeeper, so be it.

My belief was that if kids at a young age were encouraged to enjoy the activity rather than focus on winning at all costs, it would lead to them staying involved in sport for many years.

This is why the public commentary in NSW around the Premier’s Sporting Challenge is so disappointing. The Challenge rewards children from kindergarten to year two with a gold certificate, regardless of individual performance over 10 weeks. The aim is to foster positive attitudes towards sport.

In the ACT I was involved in a similar program in Canberra’s primary schools as part of the Chief Minister’s Challenge, which was administered by the Physical Activity Foundation of which I was a board member.

Once again, the aim of the Challenge was to encourage physical activity. It wasn’t about being the best. It was about participating in physical activity.

Suggestions that it creates acceptance of mediocrity, I believe, are nonsense. The focus is clearly on encouraging kids to be active and healthy and develop a will to exercise.

It’s not about robbing children of a healthy sense of competition – competition comes later in life. In primary school, it should be about enjoyment rather than being competitive.

One of the issues confronted by community sport in Canberra has been retention beyond a certain age where kids are presented with options that draw them away from physical activity.

I have been of the view that if we push kids too hard at an early age, while some thrive, there are others who are unable to deal with it. They simply walk away from sport and never return.

Of course, as kids getting older and go into high school, the concept of competition evolves naturally. It doesn’t have to be manufactured.

Taking a holistic approach to guiding children through sport, making it as enjoyable as possible, doesn’t mean we are setting them up as unable to cope with defeat.

There are plenty of people involved in sport and parenting young athletes who have a contrary point of view believing that we are making kids soft by rewarding participation.

Surely, though, we should encourage primary age children to experience the enjoyment of sport for all its attributes, including helping motor skill development, building relationships, discipline, understanding rules, and just having fun, rather than seeing it as purely about winning?


What's Your Opinion?


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16 Responses to Participation more important than competition when kids take to the field
David Brown David Brown 3:40 pm 23 Jul 20

It will make them happy if they ever become Wallabies.

Cathy Dearnley Cathy Dearnley 11:00 am 22 Jul 20

2 daughters. 2 basket ball coaches. Both primary school aged teams. One daughter booted off the team for not practising enough away from training. The other cheered by both her team and opposition when she threw her first basket after seasons of play. If the Olympics isn't your goal, find the coach who will develop your kids to be better people while getting some exercise.

    Michael Stachow Michael Stachow 6:58 pm 22 Jul 20

    Cathy Dearnley wow that’s not cool of that coach Cathy. Well done on your daughter for finally getting that basket, she would have been so happy!

Spiral Spiral 9:54 am 22 Jul 20

In my experience with my kids, they and their team mates are keeping track of the scores and know whether they win or lose, and how they compare to other teams.

The “officials” can do all they want, but the kids know. Listening to kids talk while carpooling makes it very clear that people who think they are taking the competition out of junior sport are deluded.

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:32 am 22 Jul 20

As a 5 year old I hated losing. Dad didn't sign me up for soccer the following season.

Justin Watson Justin Watson 8:33 am 22 Jul 20

Of course we play sport/games to win. But part of becoming a better p[erson is how we deal with the losses or bad things that can happen in life. At least with kids sport you can still play, still have fun and lose without anything really bad happening.

Philippa Nitsche Philippa Nitsche 8:14 am 22 Jul 20

Well said Tim

Phoebe Zardo Phoebe Zardo 8:07 am 22 Jul 20

Great article

Rooster James Rooster James 7:53 am 22 Jul 20

Listening to qualified child psychologist’s, they agree participation is important but you also need to build resilience. Kids need to know it’s ok to loose. Simply life doesn’t give you participation trophy’s.

You don’t always win.

Tara Murray Tara Murray 7:44 am 22 Jul 20

Thats why they don’t usually do comps until around under 10’s my son is under 9 rugby and just starting to get to comp levels

Justin Wakefield Justin Wakefield 7:32 am 22 Jul 20

Agree 100%

Marco Spaccavento Marco Spaccavento 7:29 am 22 Jul 20

Physical activity and teamwork are good things to learn. So are winning and losing, which are part of life.

    Michael Stachow Michael Stachow 7:30 am 22 Jul 20

    Marco Spaccavento it’s called resilience.

Haidee Whiteley Haidee Whiteley 7:28 am 22 Jul 20

totally agree - participation is everything

Michael Stachow Michael Stachow 7:25 am 22 Jul 20

I coach under 8’s girls soccer. I asked them at our first training session what they loved most about soccer, 5 of 8 girls said ‘winning’.

Tim you write a good article, yes let’s have fun and that is the focus, but you can’t take the will to win out of kids.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 7:53 am 22 Jul 20

    Michael Stachow It's like with any competitive game (including boardgames). You have to want to win because otherwise there's just no point. But that doesn't mean that you have to care all that much if you win or lose in the end.

    And that was my experience with kids soccer. They gave it their all on the field to try win. But if they lost none of the girls seemed upset in the least.

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