Youth Sport Myths

Youth Sport Myths

by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD

Readers might recall that I recently mentioned my former colleague Dr. Tom Appenzeller who posits that sport was never really intended for children.  Sport, he maintains has been throughout time as exhibited by participation in the early Olympics and early American sport competition was by and for adults.  Children simply played.  So, let’s begin here in discussing some common youth sport myths; first of all, children are not just miniature adults! They need to have sport presented by coaches in a manner that is consistent with their psychological, physical, and social development.

For the rest of this blog, I am going to refer back to Dr. Larry Lauer’s comments from a couple of years ago to help dispel three common myths regarding youth sport;

  1. MYTH: Winning is the most important thing in playing a sport, especially for enhancing a child’s self-esteem.

FACT: The Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University found that both girls and boys put winning near the bottom of list of reasons for sport participation (1).  Add to that a 2007 survey by the Josephson Institute revealing that the majority of athlete’s do not think winning is essential to their experience (2).

However, let’s be honest it is fun to win and get one’s hand raised at the end of a match and many coaches and parents believe that children need to win to have strong self-esteem. The truth is that yes people feel better after winning in most cases. But, they do not need to win as long as the children are presented with a task-oriented setting that can be used to determine success.  That is, teaching a child to focus on individual improvement of their wrestling tactics/techniques.

  1. MYTH: Kids would rather sit on the bench for a winning team than play for a losing team.

FACT: Once again the importance of winning has been exaggerated.  In the above survey 74% of boys and 76% of girls strongly disagreed with the statement “I’d rather sit on the bench for a winner than play for a losing team (1).  And as Dr. Lauer pointed out, the theory of competence motivation asserts that youth are motivated to participate in sport because they perceive that they are competent.  Thus, if a child plays (wrestles), they have more of an opportunity to see that their competence is controllable; which is a better indicator of success.

  1. MYTH: Winners at 10 will be the state champs at 18

FACT: The fact is that some will and some won’t.  However, keep in mind that those wrestlers who win in the 6-12 age groups are typically the wrestlers who are the most mature from a physical, psychological, and social perspective.  Also from earlier conversations, remember that early specialization in wrestling is not a predictor for success at the higher levels.
Check out the NWCA Youth Coaching Manual for more youth sport myths that have implications for youth wrestling.

“Find a way and make it happen”….dj

  1. Josephson Institute of Ethics. (February 16, 2007). What are your children learning? The impact of high school sports on the values and ethics of high school athletes.
  2. Seefeldt, V., Ewing, M., & Walk, S. (1992).Overview of youth sports programs in the United States. Washington, DC: Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.

High School Wrestling Coaches:  Youth Sport Myths
Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind

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