Thursday, June 4, 2009

Boys and Sports

How do we deal with coaches and others kids who are too competitive? We want our son to play sports but do we do when the purpose seems wrong?

This is a great question and an important topic. Boys are highly competitive creatures. In certain stages of their development, they can become consumed with their ranking in the pecking order. All of life can become a competition for them unless we help them differentiate and identify contexts where competition takes place and where it doesn’t.

Sports are an ideal context for boys to learn about healthy competition, an opportunity to win and lose, working as a team, and an outlet to test his strength. Sports are also designed to be a place to learn skills and to have fun. Sadly, we have taken much of the good intended for athletic experiences and made it into a fiercely competitive arena. Parents and coaches crowd the sidelines yelling, cursing, and shaming boys and referees, modeling inappropriate behavior and redirecting the athletic experience toward something harmful rather than beneficial.

If you find your son is playing under a coach who is shaming or obsessed with winning, we would advocate pulling him from the league and finding a less competitive league with core values that match those of your family. Dialogue openly with your son about why you’re making this change and what you want him to get from his athletic experiences.

If you find he is playing with highly competitive kids, use it as an opportunity to dialogue about character. Invite him to brainstorm with his coach in how best to navigate this challenging territory. If that feels overwhelming to him, offer to do it with him. This will translate to life-long learning in how to navigate relationships with difficult people.

Furthermore, we worked with a dad who asked the coach to bench his son every time he made a critical, shaming or inappropriate comment to a teammate. This wise father was more invested in his son’s character and seeing him evolve into a strong team player than he was in seeing his son winning. Be willing to make this strong of a choice for your own son if you see him gravitating toward destructive patterns himself on the field or on the court.


  1. I love that last anecdote.

    What would you recommend for parents who find themselves in a situation where the coach/coaches are obsessed with winning or use yelling and shaming, but finding another league is not an option? I live in a smal town, so there's often only _one_ choice for baseball, basketball, etc.

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