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Is Everyone Really a Winner? The Great Debate of Youth Sports


Very few things get youth sports coaches and parents more heated than the Great Youth Sports Debate—should every player be treated like a winner? Some argue that teaching young players that everyone is a winner undermines the efforts of the kids who work extra hard to achieve and excel and actually deserve to be recognized for their efforts. Others say that there is too much pressure placed on youth athletes to win at all costs and that’s not what youth sports is about. What do you think?


Above all else, youth sports are supposed to be fun. At the end of the day it’s just a game! Too many sports parents and coaches are putting way too much pressure on their 8 year old to become a soccer dynamo—high powered travel teams, private lessons, specialization at an early age—it’s all too much for a little kid. And parents are getting too wrapped up in their child’s athletic career. Of course you want your youth athlete to be successful, but just because they aren’t an amazing athlete that doesn’t mean we can’t be proud of them for what they did over the course of the season.Is Everyone Really a Winner? The Great Debate of Youth Sports

There are going to be plenty of times in the future where things don’t work out, so why not celebrate the small victories now? It makes kids good to feel like they were part of a team, even if they weren’t the superstar player. This can help build up their confidence. Trophies and medals are a way of telling them good job!


Youth sports teams are the perfect opportunity to teach kids that not everyone can win at everything every time. This is not a life or death situation so it’s the perfect time for a child to learn how to bounce back from disappointment. Much further down the road in their lives there are going to be awards they won’t win, tests they won’t pass, jobs/raises/promotions they won’t get and so forth. Learning how to NOT be a sore loser now, and how to grow and move on from a loss, will help them recover from more serious losses down the road.

Current sporting policies that allow every kid to get a trophy or medal just for participating and not actually excelling are over-indulging our youth athlete’s egos by making them believe they are better than they really are. There is nothing wrong with encouraging a child’s confidence in themselves and telling them they can do anything they want as long as they try hard, but by treating everyone the same you are actually undermining the kids that are pushing themselves, giving 110% and doing a truly exceptional job.  

What do you think? Should everyone be a winner in youth sports?


Hi everyone, 
I think kids are smart enough to know that a certificate of participation doesn't mean they are an MVP but it's nice to be recognized and helps encourage them.  
I think certificates for participation and trophies for those who win or who outperform are a good combination.
Posted @ Wednesday, July 25, 2012 2:13 PM by Scott Hartman
I think kids should not be pushed as hard to excel. To many travel teams, too much emphasis on winning at all costs. This has left the avg. kid on the outside looking in when it comes for them to have the opportunity to play have fun and learn the game. In my town, avg. kids who love to play only get to play 12 games if they don't make a travel team. How sad is that. We in society have completely missed the big picture. All kids no matter what their talent level should have the opportunity to play throughout the summer. Sadly somehow we have forgotten about the avg. kid. Let's get back to treating all kids the same.Actually teach them and they will surprise us. I played pro baseball. When l was a kid, no travel teams, no training school, just a bunch of kids that played 20-25 games throughout the summer months. No pressure , had fun and competed hard. I had a coach who could teach. Let get back to this formula. It got me a contract to play pro ball and paid for my college education.
Posted @ Wednesday, July 25, 2012 9:00 PM by Kevin Mulholland
Thanks Scott and Kevin for your comments! These are exactly the points I was looking for with the post.
Posted @ Thursday, July 26, 2012 7:58 AM by Jodi Murphy
As a fencing coach Ive struggled with how to present the idea of "winning". I have counseled that winning is not always getting the gold but an individuals "win" within the match when they have attained the goals that they have set for themselves.For a barely skilled new fencer I tell them that their goal is to get one touch on everybody they are up against.Anything more is icing on the cake.They are learning and building their foundation, it is not expected that they will win. Forthose who have been fencing for a while, I feel you have to get tougher with your expectations and their goals or you get complacency.Sports is an extension of life.Everybody is NOT a winner and the kids know that.If you do not push them to excel then the moments when they doubt themselves they will quit instead of digging deep and pushing on. 
Winning is not about how hard you hit but about how hard you can GET hit and get back up.I love this quote from Rocky.OUr great moments in sports comes from the ones that things go badly in the midst of competition and they dig deep and come back.Kids will not be able to do this if they are raised with everybodys a winner mentality 
I have struggled to figure out why all the winning coaches seem to be the ones yelling at the kids. Ive seen it in multiple sports.I dont want to do that but it does seem like they are the ones that win.Does anyone have thoughts on that?
Posted @ Thursday, July 26, 2012 8:50 AM by margaret
@Margaret - I love your thoughts and also the quote from Rocky! Your point about the winning coaches and yelling is a good one. I may just have to dig deeper on that one and write a follow-up post. :) Thank you for your comment!
Posted @ Thursday, July 26, 2012 8:57 AM by Jodi Murphy
I'm glad you brought the topic up - I believe it is a central issue regarding all sports. 
Success in athletics can be defined in one of two ways. It can be defined by processes or outcomes. If an athlete defines his success by wins and losses alone(a very high percentage do), some undesirable things begin to happen - If he thinks he is out-manned he has a good excuse not to try as hard, or to look for convenient excuses as he prepares for defeat. On the other hand if he feels that he is the superior competitor than he also may slacken the line knowing he doesn't have to try as hard or use developing skills to achieve his aim of winning. In team sports not being one of the star players on the team has lead too many developing players to quit a sport at a young age because they feel frustrated or useless. Others have sought for ways to obtain an unfair advantage over their competition either during competitions or in the time between them because winning the contest was the most important thing. Any time winning is THE goal, an athlete has set an objective that is not fully in their own control. He can put forth an "A+" effort, demonstrate skill proficiency, show good sportsmanship, etc. etc. and still come of the field/court/mat feeling dejected and like he has failed - that is detrimental to sport participation levels and healthy competition.  
If on the other hand success and winning are defined by processes then things are different. Effort, skill mastery, team play, sportsmanship (all of those things that lead to winning consistently) are things that are all in the athletes control. Focusing on those type of things not only gives each athlete the opportunity to win in every contest, but it also reduces anxiety before competition, (because each athlete knows all variables are in his control) and clarifies the path of improvement after contests instead of leaving athletes who came up short with a big questions and a growing fear about the variables he cannot control in competition (like the caliber of his competition). Ironically it seems winning comes more regularly and naturally as a peripheral benefit instead of a primary objective. It is good for parents and coaches alike to remember that we influence people not just athletes, and if we end up using our influence to mass produce talented individuals who will cheat, steal, lie, slack off, and take advantage of others than we have done them a great disservice.
Posted @ Thursday, July 26, 2012 12:45 PM by Drew Griffin
@Drew - very insightful! Thank you for your comments. :) 
Posted @ Thursday, July 26, 2012 1:43 PM by Jodi Murphy
I'm a "soft heart" by nature and had the opportunity as a youth to experience both scenarios. Since then I've been given the chance to coach youth basketball myself. Throughout all of my experiences I've found that, like most things in life, balance is key and there is a middle ground to nearly everything. Kids who are tought soley that winning doesn't matter and we're all just here to have fun (while I agree with the fact that kids need to be kids and having fun is the reason we play sports) are also tought a sense of apathy or an overinflated sense of self worth for putting in minimal effort. This could be dangerous and create a society of people who feel they deserve all the spoils without putting in any of the effort necessary to truly achieve greatness. If winning doesn't matter, than why even try? Why not bring the oranges and kids to a playground and forget the structure alltogether?  
The opposite side to that coin is; that we truly are trying to teach the kids that sports and work can be fun. If you make the experience too stressful you could turn a child away that would otherwise enjoy a life of fun and learning at whatever sport they desire. I was blessed with parents who allowed me to experiment with different sports and levels of sports throughout my childhood. While that strategy didn't force me to dedicate myself to any one sport which I could master, it allowed me the opportunity to discover which one I was really passionate about. I played competitive and recreational soccer, baseball, football and basketball in youth sports organizations. I found that while I enjoyed all 4, basketball was my favorite. I was able to then apply myself to learning as much about basketball as possible and enjoy playing and coaching to this day.  
Being tought how to work hard to achieve greatness is a good thing and the foundation of a prosperous society. Teaching kids that they only need to show up to win breeds apathy and laziness. The first post in this forum had a good suggestion; that rewarding participation is great for moral and the spirits of kids trying to have fun but don't reward everyone as an MVP just for showing up. If you want the MVP trophy, work for it and earn it. Don't ask that it be handed to you. 
Posted @ Thursday, July 26, 2012 6:39 PM by Shua
in addition to Drew's effort, skill mastery, team play and sportsmanship, create a practice environment which players want to attend and enjoy is more important than the games. depending on the age group, this includes being organized, with a plan that is explained to the players so they understand. knowing there is organization and a plan is very reassuring for younger players.
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 12:13 AM by Jim Henry
As the wife of a former Olympian, my husband was MOST blessed by coaching special olympians. That is when he appreciated the gift he had. As we prepare for the Olympic games, I realize that only a hand full of individuals will ever appreciate the honor of standing on the gold metal platform to represent their country. As we chear for our children, remember participantion is the most important thing they can do. Love your participants at every level understand the pain and sacrifice that they will endure for simply being a participant. All 4 of our kids have a multitude of participant certificates. Last year, our youngest son (age 7) placed a 4th place individual wrestling trophy on the mantel. We are so proud.
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 7:22 AM by Mary
Personally, I would rather my child come out with the understanding that when he pushes himself to do better, focuses, and practices on his own he will excel and in turn will be rewarded. Then, if he sits and plays video games instead, doesn't watch the other teams play, and doesn't focus on his part does NOT excel and is not rewarded for that behavior it's upt to HIM whether or not he wants the reward bad enough. I think we reward kids for mediocre performance way too often, and in turn it creates an environment where they think they should always get waht they want whether they excel or not. If you study for the test, you get an A. If you don't, you fail. That's just the facts in life, and they need to understand that because in the real, adult world no one is going to treat you special.
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 8:44 AM by acwilliams77
I am remaining in the middle. :) Great feedback supporting both sides!
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 9:10 AM by Jodi Murphy
My young son has played t-ball the past two years. Thsi year I coached his team and saw first hand how over the top some parents can be. We do not keep score in t-ball, but in our league they do start keeping score at the next level. Kids need to learn how to lose gracefully. In life you will not always be a winner and learnign to accept that with dignity is huge character builder. Now we are starting our first year of football and my son is loving it. Being part of a team is something he enjoys. As far as awards go, I don't think htat end of season trophies are over the top. I think the kids enjoy them and love having them in their rooms with their other "treasures." MVP trophies etc are fine too for the kids that earn them. It's not "all or nothing" and there is nothing wrong with making a child feel special while they are learning.
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 10:48 AM by Chris
I think that children should learn that everyone doesn't win and that they should be happy for the person that won and one time it will be their turn to win. My son lost his first game of Candyland and will not play again because he lost, so we are really working on the "you don't always win", because that's how it's in REAL LIFE.
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 11:09 AM by Bonny Egarian
My son is one of those kids that comes to every practice and works hard. He is consistent in his efforts and does what he has to do to get the job done. He has been on teams where the coaches reward players that make one catch or one basket in a whole game. He often feels overlooked because he isn't the superstar but isn't the worst player on the team. This has really hurt his feelings in the past. It is even more difficult when the coach has a son on the team and that child is favored in play time and recognition.  
My son just wants to be told good job. He doesn't want the coaches to just expect him to do well and because he is a confident boy they don't think he needs the added encouragement. In his heart he does. We tell him how proud we are of him and that he has to look inside, now as a boy in sports, and as he gets older in his life and know he did a good job. For him, hearing accolades or a pat on the back mean as much or more than a trophy!
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 12:00 PM by Lynne Rand
Alfie Kohn has left his mark in our world in his writings about competition. As a culture, we focus too much on extrinsic rewards in rearing our children. Atta-boys from coaches and positive reinforcement from parents will build healthy-minded kids who will understand competition and later in life will be able to embrace challenges and understand that you win some, lose some. We must as coaches and parents ensure our kids are focused on intrinsic rewards. The rewards for kids should be fun, effort and knowledge that they tried their best. The "trophy" is inside of them, but they can only see that if parents and coaches enable them to see it. Trophies for all is a good posture for kids 6 years old or less.
Posted @ Friday, July 27, 2012 5:49 PM by Coach Steve Alvarez
Youth sports are supposed to teach you life skills. Sportsmanship (i.e. how to lose, and win, properly), honor, teamwork, team building, etc. When was the last time everyone in the real world was a winner?
Posted @ Monday, July 30, 2012 3:47 PM by Mike
Healthy sport it.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 31, 2012 7:47 AM by Akinya Oluwagbenga .D
A conversation that really hits home and one that effects and addresses more aspects of our day-to-day life than I think most people actually account for. 
IT’LL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME (or, One of my favorite skits from ‘The Simpsons’ where Lisa and Bart play rock paper scissors and they think to themselves... (Lisa), “Poor Bart he always chooses rock.” (Bart) ‘Good ole rock, nothing beats rock) 
As a coaching advisor I recently suggested to a local soccer organization that they replace the trophy given to all the four, five and six year olds with a training tool called the 'Soccer Pal'. It’s an attractive and fun gadget that allows children to practice kicking the ball while it is retained in a net bag and they hold onto a string with a handle. The kids love it, it encourages practice and with guidance it can be extremely productive. We all agreed it was a no lose proposition, that is until at the next board meeting it was made know that a few of the moms asked their children what they preferred and the kids chose the trophies. 
LOSING BATTLE (or, as my father in law would say, “If this keeps up the viscous brown is gonna hit the revolving blade.”) 
Soccer, and soccer makes up the world in which I live, is a wildly fascinating microcosm of our society and it infinitely interests me. I am not sure that the dominance of the ‘Soccer Mom’ demographic has anything to do with any of these phenomenon but there is certainly no doubt that the American obsession with sports (youth, high school and especially college and professional), permeates almost every facet of our daily existence. I don’t want to take up too much space in the post or too much time for any brave readers but just think about these names and how much water cooler conversation, media attention and even Congressional attention they have garnered. OJ Simpson, Brett Favre, Mike Tyson, Roger Clemens, Joe Paterno, Lebron James. 
LEARNING LESSONS (or, “We talkin about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice.”) 
In life we all have the opportunity to reach our own potential. Sometimes we even exceed our own and others wildest expectations and yes, from time to time miracles do happen. 
But, as a general rule we are not all created equal. And we can’t all be astronauts, pro athletes, or movie stars, well maybe reality TV stars I guess.  
Another general rules applies when aspiring to hold any one of these or many other job titles, that is hard work otherwise known as practice, training or repetition will increase your chances of success. And the saying practice makes perfect, modified to perfect practice makes perfect and more recently adapted to include brain training and the use of dedicated practice identifies the need to be doing things correctly from the outset to make efficient use of your time in the quest to become good or at least better. 
THAT’S MY BOY (or, Blame it on Spock. No Scotty not Mr. Spock, I meant Dr. Spock.) 
I am not sure when or how it happened, maybe when they took corporal punishment out of the schools or replaced spanking and grounding with time-outs and counting to 10, but in the realm of youth soccer some strange and unindentifiable virus seems has infected the youth game in every facet. It all took place right before my own eyes and I simply cannot identify where things went wrong. Silent Sundays, where parents and coaches aren't allowed to cheer or yell. Teams full of children that kneel on command as if at Catholic mass when anyone falls down during the game. Referees, coaches and parents ignore the simplest of rules which offers the single opportunity for the children to actually use their hands legally and allow for play to continue unpenalized for convenience sake rather than enforce a rule and help the children learn a technique, a law of the game and a consequence for doing the wrong thing. Mandatory, and usually unhealthy, snacks at the end of every game (and you’d better not be the mom who brings baggies filled with sliced apples and grapes. or your child will never forgive you). Trophies for every player at the end of the season are simply the icing on the cake although I prefer to them of them as a little whip cream on a pile of _ _ _ _! 
I don't know how the kids are supposed to learn anything valuable while unrelenting, overbearing parents place absurd and unrealistic expectations on their offspring without considering for a moment the genetic material that they contributed in their creation. The same parents who trumpet their children’s successes in the big game against the orange team on Saturday have allowed their children to play the game, IN AN ORGANIZED COMMUNITY LEAGUE, for three, four, five or more years without learning the rules or basic fundamental skills. 
DARWINISM? (or, Hear me now and listen to me later.) 
The collective recreational youth soccer game in this country has for years not been soccer at all but a game of tennis played with a bigger ball, on a large grassy court, without rackets, without a net, using any number of players on each team and in many cases without recording any score. There is little if any skill displayed and if a winner is determined it is usually due to the biggest, strongest or fastest participants. I have heard it all to often, to the point where I begin to dry heave when I know the sentence is coming, but it is a built in excuse turned cliché that coaching youth soccer is like ‘hearding cats’. Also known as the swarm the acceptance of this being inevitable allows for the weak to blend almost seamlessly with the strong, except if you happen to value speed, agility or strength as a positive athletic characteristic. 
RIDDLE ME THIS? (or, The girl who spoke with her eyes said, “Can you see what I am saying?”) 
Why is soccer so popular? 
Why is soccer so abhorred by so many adult American men? 
Why aren’t we producing many more great soccer players? 
Why can’t we compete with the rest of the world in this one single and simple sport? 
I am getting very tired so I’d like to ask you what sport you can think of that we as a country represent ourselves so poorly in when it comes to international competition, not golf or tennis or skiing, maybe rugby, field hockey or cricket but none of those come anywhere close to having large youth participation numbers that soccer boasts This fact is widely know, the data analyzed and results reglarly used by every known corporation due to the market potential the sport offers for the sale of their goods. 
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST (or were not talking about eating competitions, or are we?) 
I recently spouted off to a few soccer coaches (friends) that youth soccer in America is not really soccer and not really a sport. Youth Soccer is an activity. It is the statistically most highly populated youth sport and mainly for one reason as far as I am concerned, the Armor Hotdog commercial says it best, come on, sing along, "Soccer....Soccer, Soccer, what kind of kids love to play soccer. Fat kids, skinny kids, kids that climb on rocks, tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox love Soccer....Soccer, Soccer. The game kids love to play.” 
(Here’s the link to the jingle for those of you too young to have had the pleasure to hear it regularly. Replace the word Soccer with Hotdogs) 
HOPE AND A PRAYER (or, Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, your our only hope.) 
There is no quick way to wrap up this post but consider these facts, once again strictly related to the soccer world. And if you don’t mind me asking do they give trophies to all the Little Loop or Pop Warner football players? 
If the kids want to play all summer, get them to make some friends, get together, make up some rules and play some games. Everyday, anytime, all the time. Run around out in the field with no sidelines, argue about whether or not your knee was down, you touched the base, your foot was out of bounds or if the contact was too hard and you should call foul. 
As Americans we really don’t like sports we didn’t invent (baseball, football, basketball, NASCAR) and if we didn’t invent them than they must be weird or queer.  
As Americans we all love the winners, and even as a young Buffalo NYer I collected the football cards of the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys during the 1970’s. 
As Americans we have to realize there is life outside of our SUV’s and across our borders. And as Americans we have to realize participation does not necessarily include competition, and competition is a good thing that makes us all better unless we give up. Last and most importantly we need to accept and embrace change. And this is where I find hope, at least for the future of soccer in America. 
As I attended a coaches licensing course this past weekend I realized that the shift of soccer education has taken the first big step to standardizing the process by which we can actually develop a generation of soccer players who all learn the same rules and fundamentals in a logical and progressive method which allows for understanding and positive growth over the period of a season, a year and a career. 
We still have a long way to go as the training of millions of volunteer coaches is a daunting task but at least we are preparing a generation of leaders to deliver a single message for children who reach a level where the activity morphs into sport. 
I am proud to be a coach of youth a believe that every child has the right to be taught the proper way to play any game, to learn the rules and skills needed to be successful, to be penalized for violation of the rules and to be taught that there is no greater reward than a hard fought victory and no greater disappointment than God given ability gone to waste. 
The good thing is that we are American and although we might need a hazelnut flavored double espresso, skim milk, half foam latte from Starbucks to wake us up we almost always wake up and once we set our minds on something we can be persistent as hell. Hopefully we will continue to change, for the sake of our soccer, for the sake of our youth and most imprtnatly for the sake of our future. 
It's nice to say your number one, but it's a great feeling to know that your number one and know that you can take all comers, 
Whew………………….thanks for letting me rant. 
Trophy please ☺ 
Posted @ Wednesday, August 01, 2012 5:05 AM by Otto Orf
I don’t think everyone should get a trophy for winning at soccer. My first reason is that buying trophies can cost a lot of money. My second reason is that some people might have not done a great job. My third reason is that the people who did a great job should be rewarded. This is why I don’t think everyone on a team should get a trophy.
Posted @ Friday, November 06, 2015 7:20 AM by Phoebe M
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