All players and teams compete; regardless of their level of play. Competition occurs on several levels. Players compete with themselves to improve, striving to reach their maximum potential. Players compete together with their teammates to become the best team possible while also competing against their teammates for playing time and positions. Lastly, teams compete against other teams for victory. These different types of competition lead players and teams to grow and improve.
As a club, we see competition as an essential part of the growth of a child and necessary to their preparation for life as an adult. As one of our pillars of character, we define competitiveness as "a strong desire to win while exerting the best effort in order to succeed; striving to always improve." There is immense value in striving to be the best one can be. NFL Hall-of-Famer Steve Young explained it well when he said, “The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” When players strive to improve their skills and knowledge, they are competing with themselves.
We see competition differently based on a player’s age and development level. At the youngest ages, we want players to develop an ability to compete with themselves to improve and grow. At these ages, while we want our teams to win, the emphasis is on individual growth and success. Players are encouraged to develop their individual skills and to train on their own – essential habits for players to become successful as they age. At these ages, players should not face repercussions for mistakes or losses – instead setbacks should be seen as messages that players need to improve.
Renowned author and professor of psychology, Dr. Carol Dweck, works with the Positive Coaching Alliance. Through the PCA, she provides helpful insights that relate to youth sports. Dr. Dweck had this to say about striving to improve. “The serious part of sports is inspiring kids to grow their skills through mentoring and practice. It’s a good lesson for life—teaching them to work on weaknesses (and existing strengths) and pointing out how they’re progressing.”
As players get older and playing time is unevenly divided, players begin to compete with their teammates for positions and/or playing time. While this type of competition is important to a player improving and growing, it is vital that players learn to compete while at the same time remaining friends and good teammates. Learning how to compete with your teammates in a positive way leads to an understanding that competition can be beneficial to both competitors – if I am your back-up and pushing you for the starting spot, you need to work harder and improve to stay ahead of me.
Finally, as they reach their teenage years and results become more important, players and teams strive to work together to win and obtain results. At these ages, the team begins to outweigh the individual and the players need to work together to produce the desired outcome. This directly relates to a player’s adult life. Employers value individuals who are able to combine their talents and skills in a cohesive manner to produce results.
By experiencing these different types of competition while playing youth soccer, players are best prepared for higher education and the work world. When kids learn they need to improve themselves and acquire new skills while improving existing skills, they learn to become good employees capable of working effectively with their co-workers. Finally, they learn the skills necessary to compete in the adult world where people are evaluated by results and measured, compensated and employed based upon their level of success.
We want all of our coaches to promote healthy competition in all of their training. Coaches can do this in several ways, including:
Players' focused effort on improvement through competitiveness is one of the great benefits of playing youth sports and it will carry over into other areas of their life.