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Guest column published in the July 6, 2008, issue of The Spokesman-Review.

Children learn bigger lessons than who wins the game

Jim Hayford
Head Men’s Basketball Coach
Whitworth University

I am filled with joy as I watch my son leap in the air with his arms raised as he makes a free throw with the score tied for a sudden-death win to secure a consolation bracket championship in the 10-year-old boys division of Hoopfest.

I am filled with disbelief as I have a friend tell me that her husband was assaulted by the coach of a 9-year-old team who had verbally harassed the opposing team's players. This resulted in the coach having charges pressed against him for fourth-degree assault.

I am saddened as I hear the opposing team's parents cheer the traveling violation of a 10-year-old boy resulting in their team gaining possession of the ball.

I am filled with gratitude as I see volunteer after volunteer giving of their time for a super long day of physical labor in scorching heat.

I take great pride in watching former players whom I coached at Whitworth University five years ago compete on television for the Elite Division Championship. I feel disappointment for them as their opposition scores four unanswered points to snag a come-from-behind victory.
I have great envy as I walk to my parked car through the Washington Avenue tunnel and realize that some teams competed all weekend in total shade.

I am impressed by the generosity of all the corporate sponsors who have made such a huge event possible. What a great community for raising a family.

The memories I have just shared with you are just a short list of emotions I encountered as my family and I supported our son and his teammates this weekend at Hoopfest. It also led me to consider some things about sport and our culture as it relates to our children that I would like you to consider as well.

When does winning matter? What else matters?

I, like most parents, want my children to feel the satisfaction of winning. Competition brings many opportunities for a young person to build character, gain confidence and understand life. I would also add, after watching this weekend's activities, that our children's competitions are a great opportunity for us as parents to build character, develop confidence and understand life.

Maybe we could see more of the following things at the next youth sporting event in our community:

  • Fans from both teams applauding the good play made by an individual, regardless of the team.

  • Never cheering the mistake or errant play of an opposing player, even if it results to the benefit of the team they are supporting.

  • Allowing the referees to do their job without expert advice.

As children move on to high school interscholastic play, I do believe that some things change. The score is important. Playing time and roster spots are earned. Yet, I do believe that some of our spectator habits we have accepted from professional, college and even high school sports have leaked into the arena of youth sports.

Youth sports are about development. The development of physical, emotional and social skills have no better laboratory, in my opinion, than sport and competition. The key element, though, is participation. If the environment is too pressure filled and the competitive result is put before the developmental process, I think we are shortchanging our children.

As a parent, I want my child to feel the confidence gain that comes from a game-winning shot. I want him to experience the joy of winning. Yet I have to remind myself that how my child handles the disappointment of losing is equally important.

Life does not give everyone a blue ribbon. We all know life is tough. I am not saying that the score should always result in a tie and everyone gets a trophy for participating. I like that sports prepare us for life – the good and the bad. I just want to remind us all to keep our eye on the ball the next time we are at a youth sporting event. Let's all walk away with our head held high.

Jim Hayford, in his seven years as head men’s basketball coach at Whitworth University, has coached the Pirates to five 20-win seasons, three Northwest Conference titles and has earned three NWC Coach of the Year awards.

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