August 29, 2014
The constant search among parents and players to be on the "best team" is detrimental to children's development as athletes and people, writes Trevor Tierney. (Joe Koshollek)
The constant search among parents and players to be on the "best team" is detrimental to children's development as athletes and people, writes Trevor Tierney. (Joe Koshollek)

Zealous Pursuit of Winning Impedes Player Development

By Trevor Tierney | | Twitter

Seven Points for Parents

1. Beware the recruiting racket.

2. Seek the best experience (and not necessarily the best team).

3. Ask the right questions.

4. Respect boundaries.

5. Support your kid's team in a positive fashion.

6. Beware the burnout factor.

7. Encourage your kid to play multiple sports.

Adapted from the March 2014 edition of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse to start your subscription.

"And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." — "Batman Begins"

Lately, I have been bewildered by a phenomenon that seems to be growing in youth athletics. There is a constant search among parents and players to be on the "best team" that wins the most games and tournaments.

It's no longer enough to play on a local youth or high school team and enjoy the experience of playing sports. It's no longer enough for our children to play on a good club travel team that plays well together, is competitive with other great teams from around the country and has top-notch coaching.

Rather, there is a "grass is greener" mentality among parents and young athletes who are on the constant lookout for the best team. There are a lot of factors driving this. It is partly due to the parent's misconception that the better their child's team, the better their chances for recruitment and success down the road. (By the way, college coaches do not even know the scores of the games they are scouting — they only notice who is 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and runs like a gazelle in the Serengeti.)

This mentality runs deeper than that, though. We have simply lost touch of what sports are all about. This perception — making sure our children win all the time and at all costs — has become utterly mind-boggling. It is completely narcissistic for us to think that we should never lose. What fun would sports be if we knew we would win every time anyway?

Every great athlete and coach that I know has had his or her fair share of ups and downs. Even though I won two NCAA championships, an MLL championship and a world championship with Team USA, I also got my butt kicked a whole lot along the way.

My youth teams were disgraceful, my high school team had some serious rough patches, I can't even count how many goals Syracuse scored on me at Princeton over the years and in 2006 I was on the U.S. team that lost the world championship for the first time since 1978.

Even Michael Jordan admitted in a commercial, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

There's something about the pursuit of always winning that is detrimental to children's development as athletes and as people. There's scientific evidence that shows that we actually should want our kids to lose.

Studies on human resilience suggest parents should actually want their kids to lose, writes Trevor Tierney. (Heather Gray)

In January, I studied under one of our country's leading researchers on human resilience at Harvard, Dr. Shelly Carson. As soon as I sat in her first lecture, the light bulb flashed. I realized when we want kids to play on the most dominant team, we miss the boat on how sports build resilience. This is not just me blabbing about it either. Decades of research compiled by people much smarter than me demonstrates how we all develop resilience and how this leads to overall happiness, well being and success. And isn't that what we really want for our children?

Sports are the perfect setup for resilience training, as losses present stress and adversity. But from this perspective, you also realize that no one is going to die, get seriously injured, get cancer, lose a family member, get dumped by their girlfriend (and if so, good riddance I say), lose their home, get thrown in jail, fail out of school or face anything truly tragic from losing a lacrosse game.

All of us will encounter some form of that real-life adversity at some point in our life. Nobody's existence on this earth is perfect. Don't we want kids to learn how to deal with it in a skillful manner?

Dr. Suniya S. Luthar, professor of psychology at Arizona State, defined resiliency as "the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change... a positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity." Not only do the skills of resiliency allow people to overcome and recover from tragic experiences, but resilient people also flourish, grow and experience tremendous success in their lives.

I will take that over any win, any tournament championship and any trophy.

One of the most effective ways in handling a stressor is utilizing "problem-focused coping", taking an active approach toward finding a solution. As I tell my players and parents on our Denver Elite lacrosse teams, instead of finding a better team to play on, find a way to make your team better. That is how you will truly learn to win something of lasting value through the sports.

Trevor Tierney, who as a player won NCAA, MLL and world championships, manages the Denver Elite program and is president of the National Scholastic Club Lacrosse Association (NSCLA). He recently rejoined the University of Denver staff as a volunteer assistant coach.

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