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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

The "win at all costs" atmosphere in some youth sports programs creates a high-pressure environment.

In Sports Commentary

"The Bad News Bears" taught lessons about little league coaches during the 1970s.

It's how you play the game


It may not seem like it, but spring is coming our way, and with it, the vision of kids playing sports outside.

It is in spring and summer when youth sports seem to flower. And the thought of those kids with a ball in a field somewhere, again makes me turn to the issues in sports for young people.

I've coached kids in sports. Boys and girls together, both at recreational and competitive levels. I've had athletes who went on to play in state tournaments and be stars on high school teams. So I know something about sports as fun and sports as competition and achievement.

I think I know what's good and what's bad about kids' sports. And that has taken me to a place that seems to embody all that is wrong with sports for young people today.

I learned about it from a friend who coaches youth sports and feels that "win at all costs" attitude embodies everything that is wrong with youth sports today.

The place is called The Boys of Summer Select Baseball Academy. BOSS Baseball Academy. It's located in Mequon. And their website raises all kinds of questions about the role of sports in the lives of young kids.

In the statement of their philosophy, they say:

"As former athletes we know that winning does not just happen. There is a personal cost associated with winning.

"You cannot just show up and expect to be successful or win. You have to develop the habits and do whatever it takes to be successful -- or win -- first.

"Preparation comes on two levels. First, you need to assemble players with strong core baseball skills and a desire to do what it takes to improve on those skills. Then, the coaches and parents need to create an environment (both in practices and in general team culture) that allows those players to thrive.

"The players want to win. Parents want us to win. Our program wants to win. Our opponents want to win. We as coaches and fathers want to win.

"If we want to win (we being the players, the parents, the coaches, and the program) the collective "we" needs to do what is necessary to create the opportunities to win."

Kind of takes your breath away, huh? These "former athletes," as they call themselves, sound positively dangerous to the mental well being of children.

This kind of philosophy just screams out, calling for some kind of balance. And it raises the question of just what youth sports are supposed to be.

Is it important that kids play to win? Or should they be playing to learn things like teamwork and sportsmanship? Should they be learning skills that can last them a lifetime? Or should they be pushing to become stars?

I have heard arguments on both sides of the question, and I wonder whether it's got to be an either / or answer.

In this day of blue states and red states, it's the red states who argue that kids should learn about winning, should pay the price and understand that winning is what it's all about.

The blue state argument is that winning isn't important. It is only important that you try and that you have fun.

I know that the kids do love to win. That's why they keep score. When kids lose, you can see they are unhappy. So, I do think it's important that kids understand that winning is important and wonderful.

But the question comes, at what price?

The BOSS Web site sounds like a bunch of faded athletes trying to relive their past successes or failures through children. Any organization that says it's okay to "do whatever it takes ..." is an organization I don't think any parent ought to join.

The best thing is for kids themselves to develop a desire to win. It's terrible when the pressure to win comes from adults. That's when kids get hurt the most.

So, as many of you young parents begin to think about sports for your children, please remember a couple of things.

Sports should be fun. Kids should learn that winning is more fun than losing. But they should also learn that there is no shame in losing. And parents ought to find ways to not add pressure to the sports experience for children. Cheer the effort and the successes. But cheer the effort and the losses as well. These are our children we are talking about.

Talkbacks

abcdfun | April 18, 2008 at 12:11 p.m. (report)

It was hard to read your comments about an organization that clearlyloves all that is good with youth sports. Perhaps a visit to the organization would have changed your mind, or maybe even aksing those in charge of the BOSS organization about their philosophies. Hear-say from a friend, then passing judgement doesn't not hold water with me. As a parent of a BOSS baseball athlete, I took exception to this article, and so did my son. An opinion is valid when all "bases" are covered prior to publishing it. Competative basseball is about winning, and learning how to lose. There is nothing wrong with that. I have the highest respect for the coaches, and the coaches have the highest respect for their players.

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kidsrule | April 7, 2008 at 9:43 p.m. (report)

I just Googled BOSS baseball and found their web site. Before you pass judgement on this organization or Mr. Begel's article, I encourage you to visit their site at www.bossbaseball.org and view their Mission Statement, Goals, Philosophy and Codes of Conduct sections. Judge for youself, though to me, BOSS seems to stand for everything Mr. Begel holds dear, though he unfortunately left out of his article the sections of their site that speak to my assertion. From what I read on the BOSS web site, I wish there were more organizations like this that care that much about the kids and the game that they teach.

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hazydavy | April 3, 2008 at 1:45 p.m. (report)

10 uses of the word "win" or "winning" in their philosophy. Not a single use of learn, teach or fun. Enough said.

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Izzatso | April 2, 2008 at 9:57 p.m. (report)

Many of the BOSS coaches have been coaching for several years, with the Wisconsin Rockhounds organization among others. I have seen these coaches in winning and losing situations both. My main point is I've seen hundreds of coaches in my years of umpiring, and when I have worked the games, in the games I've done involving these coaches, they are acting very appropriately and the boys are having fun. (I could tell some real stories about a Muskego coach, and an Illinois guy, and a few others - so I understand there are bad ones) I will say I've seen a couple of these coaches' teams lose in particularily heartbreaking fashion - but they maintained a positive attitude throughout and showed very good sportsmanship. Finally, the parents are always heavily involved with these youth teams. They get pretty involved with these kinds of teams - so they can easily evaluate the team and organizational approach. And it seems like virtually all of these tournament teams have the same roster year after year. If they keep coming back, somebody must see it as a beneficial arrangement.

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SailorBoy | April 2, 2008 at 2:07 p.m. (report)

JSUmpire could not have umpired many BOSS games (if any) because BOSS just formed last September. As for the coaches, they were obviously with other organizations prior to that time that most likely had different philosophies. These coaches all joined BOSS for one reason or another and I am sure they all have their own reasons. However, I would believe the ambitions of these coaches are similar.

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