Thursday, December 17, 2015

NYT's KJ Dell'Antonia's "In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions"

I recently read a great article about youth sports via the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog.  I had to share as I could not agree more on this topic! New York Times Motherlode Blog writer, KJ Dell'Antonia's "In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions" discusses the importance of enduring losses as young, developing athletes.  In her article, I can relate to the skier's recollection of persistent winning throughout her youth, only to eventually face the inevitable yet shocking loss any athlete must endure...."They were teaching me the lesson I taught them long ago. Sooner or later you'll get your butt kicked, so you'd better know how to deal with it.  I did not appreciate the lesson."

After hauling my older brother and sister to hockey and figure skating practices at frequent-yet-odd times throughout the week, my parents decided to try speed skating.  Although they were different ages and sexes, my brother and sister could both participate at the same practice.  (Any parent knows this is a logistical jackpot!!) From the age of 4, I followed them onto the ice and started competitively speed skating.  I was so little, my parents remember counting the strokes it took for me to make one lap around an outdoor rink in Cedar Rapids Iowa, and my count was 300 to the older pro's 20.... The wind was blowing so hard, it was two strokes forward, one step back...But I loved it. It was just very natural to me and I somehow learned the form at an early age (hence the Kardashian rear end I sport today, I suppose?)

Nevertheless, we had mixed-sex races by age, and I remember winning race after race.  I was the only girl in my age group and I never met a boy that I couldn't beat (at least locally).  Similar to the author skiing in borrowed boots, I recall having to race in embarrassing green corduroy pants, or someone else's skates because I didn't bring the right gear on occasion, and I still won. Granted, speed skating is a VERY small sport, so I am NOT claiming any sort of athletic grandeur here.  AND, we would travel to meets out of state, where there was plenty of competition.  I certainly did NOT win all of those races.   But, then one day in my early teens, a girl named Nikki Ziegelmeyer (silver and bronze medalist in '92 and '94 Olympics, respectively) joined our team (from an indoor inline skating team), and she kicked my butt.  It completely turned my world inside out.  That year, it became clear that I would have to quit all other sports/activities and possibly even move to a year-round training camp to stay competitive.  I stopped skating.  Luckily, I had several other sports and activities that I loved to keep me busy.  But, I absolutely recognize the importance for young athletes to experience BOTH wins and losses AS THEY PROGRESS, so they can continue to enjoy the sport, regardless of the outcome.

In my opinion, this is the key to longevity for the young athlete.  Clearly, everyone loves to win. Its fun to win! Nobody wants to lose.  Yet, I believe in an ideal world, a young athlete should experience both 50/50....Ok, Ok maybe 51 wins to 49 losses. You get the point.  Just enough to wins to keep them encouraged and boost their confidence, but just enough losses to keep it real.  When you have enough wins for encouragement, losing makes you hungry. Losing makes you tougher. Losing builds character.  Losing pushes you to take your game to the next level.  And enjoying the sport DESPITE the inevitable loss is key to longevity. ABC's Howard Cosell's iconic, "the thrill of the victory and the agony of defeat" are equally important in order to appreciate both sides. Because, as cliche as this sounds, that is life.  If kids can experience both and STILL enjoy the sport, its nirvana.  And when they enjoy the social aspects of their sports, this is icing on the cake.   As hard as it is to watch your kid's team lose, I believe that the more their successes are countered with some failures, the longer they will continue to play, grow, and enjoy the sport...Just think about all the inspirational sports movies and stories out there.  The winners always start their careers with PLENTY of losses.  Rocky, Karate Kid, Miracle, Hoosiers, Invincible, Coach Carter, We are Marshall, McFarland USA...You get the idea.  Ok, getting off my soapbox now! Happy sporting to you and your family!

Article is provided below....

In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions

If you have a young hockey player, a skier, a hoops player or any other form of winter athlete, then you know it’s crunch time. “March madness” applies in more than just basketball. State tournaments are being played, state ski teams selected — and children (lots of them) are losing their last game or their last race of the year.
And as hard as it is, we parents should embrace, and even welcome, every single loss.
It’s the nature of the game (or the race, or the tournament) that there are more losers than winners. The former Olympic skier Edie Thys Morgan, who’s also a friend of mine, now coaches her two sons and a whole herd of other young skiers as they try for downhill glory. On her blog this month, she urges parents to give up on “secretly hoping for success every time.”
Ms. Thys knows that we know that “real progress is often a barely perceptible crawl,” and that we all want real success for our children in life, “not just a silly sporting event.” But she’s a parent, too, and she hears us, in our secret hearts — underneath all our outward insistence that winning isn’t everything — wishing our children could just “have the good days and put off the agony of defeat indefinitely, or at least until adulthood.”
I can say from experience that the fantasy of child stardom is not all it’s cracked up to be. The pros are, of course, an early sniff of glory and an instant endorphin hit of success. Up into my early teens I won every ski race I entered. I fell and got up, and won. My boots got stolen from the car so I borrowed a friend’s mother’s boots, and won. A big kid in ski boots stepped on my bare toes and broke them the day before a race, and the next day I won. You get the picture. Yay me.
But then one day, I didn’t win. And I kept not winning, like it was my new job, until it felt my world had crumbled. I had three close friends who resided solidly in my rear-view mirror during my young days of untrammeled fabulousness. All three of them scooted past me and made their ways onto the U.S. Ski Team while I ground my gears. They were teaching me the lesson I had taught them long ago: that sooner or later you’ll get your butt kicked, so you’d better know how to deal with it. I did not appreciate the lesson.
Ms. Thys dusted herself off and raced again, and again, and again, eventually to the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. Now she’s watching her own young racers, and wondering which ones will have that drive — to lose, and then get up and compete again. It’s that, far more than winning, that makes a person a success.
Her whole post is well worth a read: she considers talking kids through a disappointment, and how the laudable principle of “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” can mask the value of disappointment, which “in itself isn’t such a bad thing. It means you have some skin in the game.”
From there, in this season of teams losing in the semifinals, kids falling in the last race and teams that never make the tournament at all, it’s a good plan to go on to consider the basketball player Mark Titus, who made the team at Ohio State and went on to spend four years warming the bench — which he turned into a successful blog, a book and a career as a sportswriter (he’s interviewed here for The Atlantic Monthly). Success, even in sports, doesn’t always look the way we think it will.
Most of our children won’t spend their lives in sports. Statistically, few will become professionals, or even play or compete in college. They’re destined for what those of us on the outside of sport might call the real world. And losing, as hard as it is on them (and on us), might just be better preparation for that.

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