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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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