In the world of youth sports, we often use the terms “play” and “compete” interchangeably. However, these are absolutely not the same things. It is my argument, as a coach, that our children need to PLAY sports, not compete in them, and the distinction between these two words is huge.
Let’s take the first one - play. This means to engage in an activity for fun and, sometimes, with the goal of learning something for the future. Typically, play is something that is stress-free and enjoyable. If sports become full of stress, worry, and fear of not winning and not faring well, then they move outside of the realm of play and enter into the world of competition.
And competition…well, that is all about winning. That is a world where performing at a high level and, indeed, out-performing others, is the central focus. If your child is involved in a sports team where it’s all about winning or even about being the best, then your child is competing, not playing.
I am not one to say that competing is always a bad thing, but I do think that it is always a bad thing for young children. Young children are designed to play- to learn things, to try things, to grow from their failures and successes. Older children, such as teens and college aged students, are better able to learn from competition; thus, it is my conclusion that our very young children should be concerned only with play.
As a parent, all that I can do is spread my message and sincerely hope that you will agree with me and that you will do something about it. And that “something” is to find a hockey league where the coach agrees with you, where he allows kids to grow, to have fun, to truly PLAY and not, as is so often the case, to merely compete, and yes, I do think play is far superior to competition, especially at this delicate age.All I can do is leave you with these distinctions and sincerely hope that you understand and make use of them to benefit your own little one.