Winning Isn't Everything

By Pete McCall

The desire to win permeates much of what human beings do. Most of us want to be recognized for accomplishments at work. Many want to be the best moms and dads, have the cleanest house, and keep the best yard on the block. The majority wants to win at everything.

(© Can Stock Photo Inc. / zurijeta

(© Can Stock Photo Inc. / zurijeta

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate well with kids. Oftentimes, it doesn’t translate at all.

Get A Grip On What Kids Want
Recent data released by the nonprofit arm of Tampa-based i9 Sports state about 84 percent of kids (ages 8 to 14) surveyed said they quit or wanted to quit their youth-sports team because it wasn’t fun, their teammates were mean, or scheduled practices interfered with other activities.

About 31 percent wished adults weren’t watching their games--mostly because they yell too much, they’re distracting, they make players nervous, or they put too much pressure on kids to play better and win.

Numerous social and psychological studies--two of which were conducted by the University of Florida Family Youth and Community Services division and the New York University Child Study Center--have found the benefits of team sports range from better appreciation and respect for others to improved critical-thinking skills. The Centers for Disease Control has also stated sports plays a large part in eliminating the childhood obesity epidemic.

There is nothing stated that kids have to win to obtain these benefits.

Listening to what kids want may be the best way to keep them on the field. Here’s a rundown of the i9 survey:

  • Kids just want to have fun. The number-one reason they play sports is because it’s fun (56 percent).

  • Winning isn’t everything. Even if their team loses, 63 percent of kids say they still have a good time.

  • Video games are better. Forty-two percent of kids say they would rather play video games than participate in sports because they’re more fun (75 percent); sports are too competitive (28 percent); their coach doesn’t let them play (20 percent); and they feel too much pressure to win (17 percent).

  • Fighting isn’t fun. One in five children has witnessed a physical fight between players, and 59 percent have seen a verbal argument between players.

  • No one likes to be called a loser. Sixty-one percent of kids say their teammates have been called a “not-so-nice” name while playing sports.

Sifting through these statistics reveals kids often lose interest when the competition gets too serious. They’d rather be getting exercise through fun, activity-oriented games--not drills. And they may be on to something.

Fitness For Fun
Fitness-based games can help with decision-making and cognitive function, according to a study conducted at theUniversityofIllinoisat Urbana-Champaign. Researchers found that with 30-minute treadmill sessions among young adults and 20 minutes among children, cognition improved by 5 to 10 percent.

Try incorporating games into youth-sports practices by dedicating time at least once per week, starting with one of the games below.

Robin Hood
Equipment: Fist-sized balls (stress balls or tennis balls and more than the number of players), and at least two baskets, buckets, or bins

Space: Court, field, or playground

Recommended number of players: 10 to 30, depending on the size of the playing area

Recommended game length: 2 minutes

Set-up: Create two teams with the same number of players (if there is an odd number, you can participate or have two kids trade off midway through the game). Divide the playing area into two halves, one half for each team, and place all balls in the middle. At the back of each team’s area, place one or more baskets where players put the balls they’ve captured.

Objective: Each team accumulates as many balls as possible in their basket(s) by the allotted time.

Play: Players begin by picking up one ball at a time and placing it in their team’s basket(s) (encourage them to run). Once all balls have been placed in baskets, players can run to the opposition’s basket, remove one ball at a time and bring it back to their own team’s basket. Remind them to keep their heads up to avoid collisions.

Photo Courtesy American Council on Exercise

Photo Courtesy American Council on Exercise

Circle Ball

Equipment: One small ball per group (soccer ball or kickball)

Space: Any flat surface that can accommodate all players

Recommended number of players: six to eight per group

Recommended game length: 2 minutes

Set-up: Divide kids into groups of six to eight people. Players stand in a circle with feet spread as wide as possible, with the outer edge of each foot touching the outer edge of his or her neighbor’s. One player is given the ball to get the game started.

Objective: Score by rolling the ball through another player’s legs (while simultaneously blocking balls from rolling through your own).

Play: The player with the ball tries to bat it through the legs of another player. All players defend and block shots from opposing players by keeping their hands low to the ground. Players must only roll the ball--no throwing or catching. All shots must stay on the ground, and the ball can only be batted with an open palm.

Be careful not to hit the ball in the air as it may strike another player in the face. When a player scores by successfully rolling the ball through another player's legs, the successful player retrieves the ball while the other players in the circle perform three push-ups or a set number of reps of a specified exercise.

Towel Race

Equipment: One large towel or resistance-tubing with handles per partner team; two cones, water bottles, branches, or other marker per team; two sets of heavy dumbbells or other weighted objects with handles (kettlebells or sand-filled milk jugs) per team; deck of cards

Space: Open field, studio, or gym

Recommended number of players: Partner teams

Recommended game length: 2 to 4 minutes

Set-up: Divide the group into teams of two, and place cones across the field from one another to create Points A and B (the distance between cones should vary based on a team’s fitness level and available space).

Objective: Partner teams race against each other to complete the course first or to see how many rounds they can finish in the allotted time. Partners can keep track of completed rounds by taking a card from a deck after each round.

Play: Partner A ties the towel or tubing around his or her waist while Partner B “tows” behind Partner A, holding the towel and creating resistance as they walk from one cone to another. The partners must walk or take long strides. No running, and there must be tension on the towel at all times. At Point B, they drop the towel, and each player picks up a set of dumbbells and walks briskly back to Point A. Once there, they run back to Point B, pick up the towel, and do the “tow” drill back to Point A, with the other partner in the lead, and then each walks to Point B carrying the dumbbells.

Pete McCall is an Exercise Physiologist and ACE-certified Personal Trainer for the American Council on Exercise. Reach him at