Should there be losers in Youth Baseball? Winning vs Having Fun

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Should there be losers in youth baseball?  Is the emphasis on “winning” or “having fun” more important for baseball players?   Pro player Doug Bernier explains why both are important for youth baseball players.

As you mature in the game of baseball and have different coaches you will find extremes to both side of this argument.   Some emphasize winning at all cost, some emphasize having fun, and most are in between.

I believe they must go hand in hand in order to get the most out of every athlete.  I will highlight the positives of “having fun” and “winning” and see how they fit together.  Like it or not, as you get older and move up from little league to high school to college there is more emphasis on “winning” from your coaches.  Even though it is still just a game to you, it is a results based job for your coaches.  They are often times put in a difficult position because your teams wins and losses can have an impact on whether or not the coach returns the next season.  This is a tough reality but it is very real.

Having Fun:  Having fun is the foundation to playing sports.  If you don’t enjoy what you are doing it may be time to find another hobby, sport, or coach that has a philosophy similar to yours.  Having fun is very important in youth baseball and even in professional baseball.  It is an all too common situation now days where a parent is excessively pushing their child to be the best baseball player without regard to the less tangible factors of fun and love for the game.  I would remind these parents that without the complete cooperation from the child, he will definitely lose enjoyment for the sport over time.  (Bonus thought: If the parent is constantly pushing the child, the child will never learn to push himself.)  When you lose the fun in sports you will think of it as a task or job and not be able to give it all you have.  You simply are not likely to be a great player if your heart isn’t in it.  For this reason, having fun is the first part of being a baseball player.

Winning:  I like to call it competing, and it is a skill that needs to be learned.  It is important to learn how to win as well to know how to lose.  Let me explain.

Many areas in life are a competition:  Sports, school, personal life, and careers.  Some say that having a loser in youth baseball can diminish a child’s self esteem.  Maybe that is true, but teaching your kid that he’s a winner even if he doesn’t try hard is not a very good life lesson either.  In sports and in life, it’s not the will to win (everyone has that come game day) but it is the will to prepare to win that matters.   Also, it’s a chance to teach how to win well by being humble and sharing credit with your team.

Learning how to deal with a loss is important too.  We all need to learn how to not making excuses when we lose, how to learn from our mistakes and do better, and – maybe most importantly – learn that losing doesn’t make us less of a person.  Most adults struggle with this idea, but learning this at a young age can help our development throughout life.    This is a life skill that will be of great use to them even after their baseball playing days are over with.

“Winning is a habit.  Unfortunately, so is losing.”  Vince Lombardi

What’s your take on the emphasis of winning vs “having fun” in youth sports?  What life lessons can you think of that relate to competition specifically?

About Author

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, PIT Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. Where is he now? After 16 years of playing professionally, he is now a professional scout with the Colorado Rockies. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

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5 Comments

  1. When I was kid, I played little league. One season, I had to quit early due to family matters. After that season was over, my teammate came up to me in school and handed me a trophy that my team had won from that season. Because I was raised the way I was, I declined the trophy. I didn’t deserve it! This doesn’t answer the question of whether or not there should be winners or losers, but I think my mentality early on expresses how I feel.

    Kids shouldn’t play competitive sports if they don’t want to lose. Not having winners won’t do them any good for the real world!

  2. Like Dan, I come from an era where of course it was about winning. Although I was on a number of teams that made it to the championship, I never was on one that won it all. I don’t think it adversely affected me in the least bit.

    It’s important to play to win – that’s what life is about. What you learn about hard work, dedication and “team” are all skills that will come in handy repeatedly in life. The real world is not about just having fun. It’s about achieving your goals and then having some fun later, to celebrate those achievements.

    And, while I’d like to say that parents are the problem – especially the ones that take everything so seriously and who can get downright belligerent – it’s a sad fact that you’ll run into your fair share of those people later in life, too. Might as well observe and learn what NOT to do so that you don’t become the same “A-ho!e” yourself someday!

    It’s all part of learning who you can be, what you can do and taking life in stride. I wouldn’t trade those times on the diamond for anything – even the losses!

  3. You nailed it, another honest and thought provoking article. The cold hard facts are too many people and parents fall into the category you described and think it must be somebody else. Bottom line is life is not fair so the sooner you learn this and get used to it the better off you will be. The world does not care about your self esteem, the world expects you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. Maybe some teachers, coaches or parents do not promote A through F grades or discerning winning or losing, but that does not resemble life. Thanks for getting the dialog on this topic going.

  4. Thankfully, I was raised during a time when the outcome of a youth sporting event had yet to be categorized as a psychologically-debilitating, life-altering event. I spent eleven glorious summers in the late 60’s and 70’s playing the great(est) game of baseball.

    Fortunately, I was raised by well-rounded, textbook-terrific parents who approached both my successes and failures as life-lessons to teach me by. I’ve been largely blessed and successful throughout my life (though not without experiencing some adversities along the way). The teaching, mentoring, and disciplining from my parents (including from my baseball days) largely prepared me for both occurrences and got me through those adversities.

    I am extremely thankful we kept score back in my day and that I learned to smell the sweet aroma of victory, as well as swallow the soured taste of defeat. It prepared me for life’s journey and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

    When defeat was the order of the day, it stung for an hour or two (and then my friends and I were off on another adventure rummaging through the woods or figuring out how to climb the local water tower. Our esteem never came into question.., there wasn’t enough time over the summer to worry about it.

    Doug, thanks for the chance to share.

  5. Subject matter is so deep here. First, the amount of instruction for kids is ridiculous. You either have it or you don’t, Babe Ruth didnt have batting cages open 12 months a year and did pretty well. Parents can’t spend to make a kid better it is not reality.

    Yes there should be winners and losers, but make playing time mandatory for all kids equally not rotate a couple of the players who are not as good as coach wants . . . maybe let kids play alone or have high school kids for community service credit coach teams.

    One thing for sure, get ride of all parents when it comes to coaching and running teams . . .they are the real problem.

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