How to Stop Youth Sports From Becoming The Hunger Games
If you are a fan of The Hunger Games, both the book or the mega film franchise, then you'll know that the games were actually a desperate fight for survival. Instead of competing for trophies, kids were scrapping to stay alive, literally. If we are not careful, today’s youth sports culture can encourage the The Hunger Games mentality, where winning is everything and losing means death in terms of your dreams, self-esteem, or love of the game. Let’s turn the tables on a few The Hunger Games quotes as a reminder of what youth sports is really all about.
Keep Winning in Perspective
The Quote: "Winning means fame and fortune; losing means certain death."
This is the root of many problems in youth sports today. Winning has become way more than just important, it’s become the only thing that matters to many parents. Ultimately, this sometimes means death to self-esteem, hope, and enjoyment of the game. As fun as it is to win, coaches and parents must remember that the true value of youth sports is not in the score, but in the athlete's lives as they learn to persist, work hard, and be leaders.
Focus on What’s Best for the Kids
The Quote: "I’m more than just a piece in their games."
Younger athletes are not just bodies to fill a team. They are not just positions, aces in the hole, or a team’s ticket to the championship. As a youth sports coach, do you look at every child as an individual? Do you strive to help each one reach his potential? Are you trying to do what’s best for the child or what’s just best for you?
The Quote: "Scores only matter if they’re very good, no one pays much attention to the bad or mediocre ones."
Mediocre effort does not win games, it does not build confidence, and it does not impress coaches. If your child wants to be a player that her coach wants in the game, then she must always play with heart. Although winning is not everything in youth sports, an all-out effort is!
Focus on your child’s game, not everyone else’s
The Quote: "I've spent so much time making sure I don't underestimate my opponents that I've forgotten it's just as dangerous to overestimate them as well."
As a coach’s wife, I know that it’s important to know your opponent, but there comes a point when it’s time to quit studying your competitor and focus on your own effort, especially if the team is a formidable foe. Kids can get intimated coming up against a team that is labeled as really good -- maybe they are undefeated or big or known for their aggression, it doesn't matter. Help your child remember that his best weapon is preparation. Even giants fall every now and then, just ask Katniss.
Use positivity, not fear, to motivate
The Quote: "Hope is the only thing stronger than fear."
Kids are often motivated by their own fears and that's without you adding to them. My kids always knew that their lack of hard work could result in a poor performance or less playing time -- I certainly didn’t need to remind them of that. Parents and coaches who use threats to leverage behavior in kids may get short-term results because fear can push them, but they do nothing to instill a long-lasting work ethic. Reinforcing the good and positively correcting the mistakes will result in lasting change, especially in youth sports. Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games Trilogy, explains that the books were written about a future nation that requires its children to kill each other as a form of entertainment for the people of the Capitol. That’s what happens when adults make competition about what they want, not about the kids. Let’s keep the extra mind games out of our kids’ games and teach them instead to play for their love of the sport.