Has Winning Taken a Back Seat?

“It doesn’t matter if I win, lose, perform well, or perform poorly, all that matters is that I have fun.” This sentiment was expressed to me by a young man and share by hundreds of players today. I asked this particular young man, “why is having fun the ONLY thing that matters in baseball?” He scratched his head, gave it some thought and responded with, “it’s what my parents told me.”

Let me first confess that I am in no way advocating a ‘win at all costs’ attitude towards youth sports. I am however highly perplexed at the number of players who seem to share this belief. Even the thought of competing is far less important to the previous generation. Obviously these opinions are those of the player’s parents. Parents who themselves more than likely played competitive sports, or were forced to compete against others for jobs or sales.

While I am still relatively young, perhaps I am a dying breed of player/coach. I still firmly believe that working hard and striving towards winning, or a goal is actually fun in itself. When did baseball become a game that panders to those players who are uninterested in executing plays, winning the game, or at the very least playing the game the right way?

This is a question for parents and coaches. At what age do you believe it is important to teach your children that working hard, being a good teammate, and striving to win the game or achieve your goal is most important? And if your child has reached that age how do you go about changing your child’s thinking? How do you re-train your child to think like a winner?

Every so often I see a young player who wants to win so badly, or fears losing so much that they are labelled as ‘having a bad attitude’ or is a ‘bad teammate’. I see a player who expects more out of himself and his teammates. Often more than his teammates are willing to give. Is it now wrong to expect others to devote as much effort to the game as you do yourself?

While the 2012 London Olympics is fresh in our memories, consider this. Much of what was preached on the Australian networks was “participation.” It is not a stretch to think that participation was the key issue, and not winning. What is this teaching our young athletes? Why is it so wrong to make it known that for every 100m sprinter the Australian Olympic Committee sends to the Olympics, about 1000 of them that were considered not good enough to make the cut?

For you parents, is it okay to tell your child that they can achieve anything in this world if they simply put their mind to it? Is it also acceptable to preach this if you yourself are not there guiding them, pushing them, and making them aware of the hurdles they may face?

Every player who becomes a member of the Diamond Dreams community does so knowing that our coaching staff are there to help them become better players and to achieve their own personal goals. These goals are clearly laid out by player and parents. Our coaches make it abundantly clear that at Diamond Dreams we are in the business of baseball/softball, NOT FUN!

Throughout my coaching career this notion has always well received. Personal development and improvement is fun! Players who enjoy reaching their goals enjoy playing more and love the game more. I am yet to see a compelling argument that contradicts that statement.

For those out there who believe that having fun is all that matters in sport and in life, you are a group of people who simply accepted losing. I wonder how many of you who share this belief own a business, manage a team, or lead a successful life.

Experiencing the excitement and adrenalin that competition provides is what makes sport fun. No matter the result, if you commit to your team and your own personal development you will enjoy your sport!

3 Comments on “Has Winning Taken a Back Seat?

  1. Great article. But I do have to argue the point that for me personally that I always found the key to success in the game is fun.

    I got involved in the game when I was 6 years old after watching 12 year old Henry Rowengartner pitch for the Cubs and Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez beat The Beast. These films (yes fictional) showed me how Baseball should be played… with some friends and a smile.

    While I totally agree that we should be striving to achieve the best we can on and off the field, I believe that a real win is when you can come off the field with a smile on your face. In my 17 years in the game I have seen many very promising young players walk away from the game because it was no longer ‘Fun’. They were being pushed too much by coaches and parents to achieve more and they were not enjoying going to training or to games. I have seen players come up with a game winning hit on the weekend and be praised by team mates and then not show up to training because he will once again be pushed to do more and not enjoy it.

    The game needs to be played competitively, but if it is played without the element of fun then why would you want to play.

    Over the last couple of years I have played in different 1st Grade SWBL and A Grade PCBL teams and while with these teams I am expected to perform (which we do) some of the best moments I have had are in the dugout and sheds, or even mucking around during or before the game with my own team mates and guys from the other teams.

    I can’t tell you who we were playing the last time I had a 4 hit game, or the last time I hit a bomb, or the last time I made a diving snag. But I will always remember all the moments when we told jokes, started singing or chanting, or even dancing on the dugout bench. It’s those moments that for me makes Baseball worth playing. Waking up and driving to the field to hang out with my teammates, and on top of that… we get to play the greatest game on the face of the earth.

    “Nobody ever said, “Work ball!” They say, “Play ball!” To me, that means having fun.” – Willie Stargell

    Being a great player, making great plays and hitting a .380 average is all well and good, but if you’re not having fun whilst doing it or even in your lead up to it, I have to ask is it worth it?

    • Thanks for the response Phil. I understand your point of view, but let me counter with the following.

      Baseball is the greatest game on Earth in my opinion. I too have had similar moments in the game as what you just referenced. But this article was more addressing young players and not those who are playing grade baseball. Obviously by that stage in your career you have been through the youth learning stages.

      Let me end with this, if your definition of fun is to enjoy what you are doing whether that by learning how to slide correctly, throw a curveball, or even talking about the game in the dugout, then I totally and 100% agree with you. However, if you are a young player who finds enjoyment in ignoring the coach, distracting teammates, or generally goofing off, then you would be a child in which this article was directed towards.

      Baseball is always fun! I don’t believe you have to ‘stuff around’ to make the game or practice more fun. But thanks for your comments Phil. Always appreciated

      • Could not agree more. I guess I had looked at this as a general comment on all players young and old. It never annoyed me more than when the kids I was coaching would not pay attention or distract others. This was something I would deal with on a regular basis. My solution to this was to allow for muck around games before and after training so that way there was a time to be silly. It would also give me a chance to then work with them on their skills. This I guess is the balance I believe in. Play some games, have a laugh, then focus. My junior teams always worked hard and the results were seen on game day, and they were also one of the best “Base-netball” teams I have ever seen.

        Keep the articles coming. Always a good read.

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