Trevor Tierney | @trevor_tierney
More from the Seven-Point Check for Parents Series:
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.
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.
“And why do we fall, Bruce?
So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
— Batman Begins
This perception — making sure our children win all the time and at all costs — has become mind-boggling. It is narcissistic for us to think that we should never lose.
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 gold for the first time since 1978.
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.
In January, I studied under one of our country’s leading researchers on human resilience at Harvard, Dr. Shelly Carson. I realized when we want kids to play on the most dominant team, we miss the boat on how sports build resilience. Decades of research demonstrate how we all develop resilience and how this leads to happiness, well-being and success.
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. 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 value.
Trevor Tierney manages the Denver Elite program and is president of the National Scholastic Club Lacrosse Association (NSCLA). Follow Trevor at TrevorTierneyBlog.com and on Twitter @trevor_tierney.
US Lacrosse believes it’s imperative that parents stay educated on the issues trending in our sport. Read the full seven-point check for parents in Lacrosse Magazine’s March issue, and visit the Parents section for more resources.