Fun v. Winning

May 16, 2023

What outcome do you prefer? The answers may differ between athletes, parents and coaches.

A 2014 research study asked kids to rank aspects of youth sports that they consider “fun.”

The results are fascinating. but may be more representative of the younger age groups than views of competitive-level players.

According to the study, the  least fun aspects were: winning, playing in tournaments, practicing with specialty trainers, and earning medals/trophies – almost as “unfun” as getting team pictures taken (#81 on the list). Yet, these things are probably 90% of what parents focus on.

So, what is fun for the kids? Things like playing your best (even if that’s not the best), mastering new skills, building relationships with coaches and teammates, and being active.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? As a parent, would I be happy if my child got all of that out of their sports experience, even if the wins were few and far between?

Are we kidding ourselves when we tell our children that we just want them to have fun in sports? The answer may depend on what level they are competing in, but even at the lower competition levels, the excitement in the bleachers at youth sports events cannot be denied.

Do young athletes interpret our actions and other comments as meaning “we want you to have fun, but while you’re at it, you must also excel, become a leader, achieve all your goals, and oh yah, be a winner”?

As parents, we must remember that failure to excel at these things just means there is room for growth.

One thing to ask your coaches at each age level is their priorities. Is their top priority emotional growth and physical skills or does winning trump everything at that particular level, or is there another priority?


We know that positive experiences in sport can affect every future endeavour that young athletes pursue: school, career, life. Positive experiences may include winning – but only when accompanied by many other positive experiences such as personal and relationship growth, and unencumbered by negative experiences such as bullying or stress.