Trying to Win Is the Point
Barry Rubin offers an anecdote with which many of us will likely be sympathetic:
My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn’t listen to their suggestions. …
And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.
Parents with children in “recreational” leagues (which may be paired with “competitive” leagues) have likely noticed that the kids know who wins the games even if the coaches do not keep score. One real loss of the non-competitive structure is that the kids cannot take joy in their improvement; one of my children played the same team at the beginning and end of its season. The first time, the game wasn’t even close; the last, it was a tie. (Of course, the parents keep score, too.) Even a loss may be a win if there’s reason to be proud of some sort of achievement other than fun and exercise. The trophy is another marker of this: If everybody gets one, then it’s little more than a cheap plastic party favor.
For his part, Baron tried an experiment:
When the opportunity came to step in as coach for one game, I jumped at the chance to try an experiment. I’ve never coached a sport before, and am certainly no expert at soccer despite my son’s efforts. Still, I thought the next game could be won by simply placing players in the positions they merited, and motivating them to triumph. …
Before the game, I gave them a pep talk, with the key theme as follows:
Every week you’ve been told that the important thing is just to have a good time. Well, this week it’s going to be different. The number one goal is to win; the number two goal is to have a good time. But I assure you: if you win, you will have a much better time!
One can go too far stressing that attitude, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t absolutely correct in appropriate degree. It’ll be interesting to see whether Rubin checks back in to describe the aftermath of his experiment.