Youth Football and the Value of Losing

James Ryan


“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”—Vince Lombardi via UCLA coach Henry Russell Sanders

We all know that football is a game of winning. Any coach, player or fan who has in any way familiarized himself with the culture of American football over the past few decades has been bred and conditioned to believe that the only thing that truly matters in the sport of football, or in life, is winning.

As a society, we place a tremendous amount of importance on winning and hold losing in the utmost of contempt. We teach our kids that losing is bad, and in some unfortunate cases, coaches and parents will even go so far as to teach their kids/players that they must do everything possible to ensure that they win, even if that means cheating in order to achieve their desired level of success.

Because that’s how important winning is compared to losing, right?


“This attitude of entitlement didn’t just appear out of the blue. We ALL have to take responsibility for instilling that in our kids and grandkids because we wanted to bestow self-esteem onto our kids. Did it backfire? It’s because no one made us feel that we were special when we grew up, that we wanted our kids to believe that they were special. And of course, they do. Why wouldn’t they?”—Mary Lou Ryan

What life teaches us and what football ignores, is that losing is inevitable, and that it’s okay.

In fact, losing is just as important, if not more so, to the development of a child and in teaching that child about the importance of never giving up when faced with some sort of adversity. It teaches our kids that if they want something bad enough, they had better be prepared to put in the hard work and determination if they hope to realize and achieve their dreams and goals.

“Adversity causes some men to break. Others to break records.”—William Ward

Shouldn’t we be trying to use sports as a catalyst to actually teach our children about the realities of life, instead of using them as pawns in our own twisted and demented obsessions with winning?

Winning is fun—don’t get me wrong, and all kids deserve to know that feeling at least once in their lives, but we need to stop looking down our noses at “losing” as if it’s some sort of disease that’s ruining our kids for the future. I can promise you this—the kids that grow up knowing how to overcome multiple challenges and hardships in their lives will absolutely be the leaders of tomorrow.

Not the ones who had everything handed to them on a silver platter by mommy, daddy, or Coach Winsatallcost.

In fact, the only goals that kids should have in youth sports should be on improving each and every practice—each and every game—each and every season. If that goal can be achieved, the wins will simply take care of themselves.

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.”—T. Allan Armstrong

These are my opinions. If you don’t like them…I have others. You can check them out at www.mrjamesryan.com

Photo courtesy of Kerry Swayze

James Ryan
James Ryan



  1. Jim Storin

    I agree with you James,
    Losing should be not seen as a failure but as a challenge to improve. I get it there is not room for a “moral victory”, however leave that philosophy to the professional or higher level of competition. I think as a society we have adopted that Winning is everything from watching our favorite sports team on TV. We have missed the boat on teaching the skills of the game to our children and what it really means to have good sportsmanship.
    Great article.
    Jim Storin

  2. I too agree with you. However, nobody is giving athletes anything more than fluff and platitudes in regards to learning how to lose, and the benefits–building character, overcoming adversity, etc.–that come out of it. We need not look to the children for the root of this problem and direct our gaze instead at parents and coaches, who need strategies in leadership.

    Here is a quote from the great Tom Landry with my additions in brackets: “Leadership [and parenthood] is a matter of having people [your kids] look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.” I think a lot of coaches and parents are out of control–hence, so are the kids.

    I teach coaches and parents to win–by being in the control and displaying that control as an emotional ballast for kids. Here is my blog: http://sportexcelzone.wordpress.com/

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