By Ken Reed

I attended two youth basketball games this week and the behavior of a significant percentage of the fans (mostly parents and other relatives of the players) was embarrassing.

They were so intent on having the bigger number on the scoreboard when the final horn sounded that their behavior became despicable.

Yelling at the referees, yelling at the players — including their own children for perceived mistakes, yelling at the coaches for not making the strategic moves they thought the situation demanded, and even yelling at the opponent’s fans.

I can’t imagine the desperate need to “win” was any greater for diehard Chiefs and Eagles fans in the recent Super Bowl than it was in that small gym that day. And this was 11 year-old basketball!

Vince Lombardi was quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

For the Lombardi types of the world, if you don’t win, the whole endeavor is a waste of time. With that line of thinking there is no other reason to compete in sports. That mindset leads to the behaviors (including cheating, taunting, cheap shots, fighting, belittling, etc.) that drive winning-at-all-costs (WAAC) based sports. And it’s that type of thinking and behavior that provides the foundation for Sport At Its Worst.

For sure, striving to win is an inherent part of competition, including athletic competition. Striving to win isn’t the problem in sports. It’s striving to win at all costs that’s the problem.

Winning, in the best sense, isn’t just about wins and losses. Nor is it just about your individual or team performance. There are so many positive benefits from sports participation that even if you are a lousy athlete and only rarely win on the scoreboard, it’s worth doing.

Winning on the scoreboard, beating one’s competitors, can be a fool’s gold way of measuring one’s worth.

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, saw winning differently than a lot of people. As part of his famous “Pyramid of Success,” Wooden defined success this way:

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable,” said Wooden.

With that kind of thinking, he would have been laughed out of the youth basketball gym I was in!

Would sport be as popular as it is today if winning was the only thing of value to be gained? What about having fun, enjoying camaraderie with teammates and opponents, and improving one’s health and overall wellness? What about developing self-discipline, and appreciating the value of hard work? How about learning the importance of sacrifice, teamwork, and goal setting? What about learning how to deal with adversity, the importance of proper preparation? Or, acting with courage and learning to be accountable for one’s actions? And, of course, there is the great value of sportsmanship, learning how to compete ethically.

The list of values associated with sports participation goes on from there. But one thing’s for sure: winning certainly isn’t the only thing of value.

In the big picture, winning isn’t really about having the best final score. It’s about giving your best effort on the things you can control, having a good attitude, and displaying excellent sportsmanship. No matter what the circumstances are.

True winning entails a lot more than what those illuminated bulbs on the scoreboard say when the game’s over.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.