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managing youth sports competition

Is Competition in Youth Sports a Bad Thing?

A core focus of the ActivStars approach to after-school youth sports is that we bring everyone together to learn, play, and grow, without an exclusive focus on score. Children learn and grow in an encouraging environment, and even many of our games and events won’t rank a winner.

That naturally leads parents to wonder why we de-emphasize competition for the majority of our events and practices. They ask us: “Is competition wrong?”

Our answer is that competition has its place, but too much of it can impact your child. So, we provide a balanced approach that controls competition and introduces it only after your child and their peers have all been able to grow in a positive environment.

Science backs us up too. To better understand that position, here’s what can happen if competition goes unchecked. You can learn more about sports philosophy and programs here.

Increased Pressure

Children and teenagers are more stressed than ever, and competition can play a role when it is the primary focus of sports and other activities.

Today’s kids have to compete for awards and recognition, and even for which schools they can attend. It starts in early grades, in some cases before kindergarten, and it never lets up for them.

Schools are always comparing students to each other and generating enormous pressure to perform well and rank higher. We’re increasing standardized tests, and legislative activities that tie school funding to grades and scores means teachers are forced to push more pressure on your children to do better.

Just thinking about that list is stressful for us. Imagine what your child feels.

ActivStars sees a world focused on competition and we know that adding this into sports means your child has no relief. Something that should be fun becomes another stressor because they’re pressured to do well at every moment.

It’s time to open up the relief valve, giving them a place to play and learn where they can be themselves. Removing the competition-emphasis allows your child to have more fun and enjoy the company of their peers. They’re no longer being judged against each other, making it easier to form friendships and to see the value in everyone.

We also find that this approach removes the pressure for every child to accel at every sport. Part of the ActivStars mission is to remind adults and children that people have different strengths and it is okay to try something you aren’t the best at. It’s okay to be you.

Need to Emphasize Relationships above Youth Sports Competition

An intense drive to win without a focus on building a team may unintentionally lead to resentment among children.

When one student isn’t as naturally gifted, can’t practice as often, or can’t afford the “best” equipment, an emphasis on competition leads to that child being made fun of or treated poorly. The team that prioritizes winning can affect children’s self-esteem, and this can drive them away from youth sports while eliminating the positive community-building experience for everyone who participates.

The most concerning aspect of this is when a child internalizes their struggle. They think ill of themselves for not being the best. This can have a significant impact on self-worth and lead to anxiety and mental anguish.

No child should feel that way about themselves, and something that has the powerful, positive potential of youth sports should never treat a child that way.

Mental and Physical Well-Being

Here’s something you might not have expected: kids can burn out from youth sports when they are pushed too hard to win or over-train. There’s a direct impact that comes to their mental and physical health when students, especially young children, push themselves to be great athletes before their body or mind are ready.

The Children’s Hospital in Colorado notes that there’s a specific burnout or overtraining syndrome that causes the young athlete to have a worsening performance and attitude, increased stress, and it’ll even take them longer to recover from injury.

Symptoms and results of this focus on winning at all costs can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pains
  • Muscle pain
  • Lack of enthusiasm (for the sport and other things in their lives)
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Increased risk of injuries and infections

When a school or group places competition above everything else, it can end up creating a lot of pressure on the child to ignore these signs in themselves. So, these are some symptoms that you should be on the lookout for and be ready to respond to when they occur.

Keep Competition in Its Place

At ActivStars, we have a philosophy focused on training today’s youth for the real world. We’re not looking to create the next Olympian, but sometimes that occurs! We want to help your child learn how to be part of a team and to focus their energy. This approach helps them appreciate their friends, peers, and community. It also limits the dangers that come from an obsession with winning, instead of learning.

We do encourage competition and reward students who work hard and achieve new things. However, we prioritize learning and growth over competing. That’s why our soccer programs don’t keep score during the regular season games and why our training camps focus on learning as a team, not ranking individuals.

Even in martial arts and youth karate, where many students participate as individuals, we create an atmosphere designed to celebrate the victories of everyone, and all students are taught to encourage others who need help or a kind word.

Children deserve support, even in competition. Join us to help your child find friends, fun, and learning they need to keep competition in the right place in their lives.