What Happens When Winning Becomes Everything?

New York Times Article by Benedict Carey: “Coaching Baseball Rookies for the Limelight”(1/29/2010)

The following is a response to the article.

The New York Times article by Benedict Carey exemplifies the importance of having support systems constructed around athletes.

In youth sports, the support systems should include the coaches and parents.

However, many forget that as players enter adolescence and adulthood, the support systems can easily fade away or transform into winning systems. When coaches stress winning more than growth, parents sometimes adapt their methods of support to ensure their child continues competing. It’s a natural response for parents to want their children to succeed and not get hurt. However, the air of the game can get swept away by the very forces that should be encouraging healthy competition. When the parts become greater than the whole, players learn to become dependent on themselves. This self-dependency creates the potential for disaster.
The article describes a camp for teenagers who are emerging as baseball’s top prospects. The purpose of the camp is to address the human element of playing a professional sport and the necessity for support systems. Unfortunately, these players are about to enter a capitalistic atmosphere where winning solely matters. It is a fact of professional sports. Most professionals don’t become professionals without understanding this. So when is it a good time to introduce this idea that winning will eventually become more important than the game if you stay in the game long enough? Or should it be introduced to our youth at all?
As a person who just recently stepped away from the world of competitive baseball
, I can say that I did not play my last year and a half of baseball in a healthy environment. I played with this self-dependency that the psychologists, as described by Carey at the camp, warn future players about. While the collegiate baseball scene does not compare to the competitiveness of professional baseball, I had a coach who tried to create this winning atmosphere of the pro levels. After reading this article, I decided that the collegiate level is the place where the mentality of winning starts to overshadow everything else. Why does this happen?
It starts with the coach. College coaches rely on their team’s success to support a family. It’s a scary thought. It’s even scarier to think that this happens outside the world of professional sports. The main difference between the pro and collegiate levels rests in the fact that professional players share the goal of financially supporting themselves and their families along with their coaches. This common denominator between player and coach does not exist in collegiate sports, thus creating a natural conflict before a game is played. Already, one support system has transformed into a winning system, leaving parents and friends with the burden of support.

However, things don’t work out that way. Being away from home and living in a dorm doesn’t allow mom to give Johnny a hug and a kiss. The parental effect just doesn’t hold the same weight when the physical presence disappears. Friends are left to support each other in college. Often times for a collegiate athlete, friends exist in the form of teammates. In a sense, the friendships are forced rather than chosen. To complicate things further, conflict naturally arises between teammates who compete against each other. When you add the pressures of academics and a coach who needs his players to win in order to put food on the table, many collegiate athletes become self-dependent. Players begin to define themselves by their performance on the field and gradually forget that life continues with or without baseball.
Camps like the one in the article need to start taking place earlier, specifically in the world of collegiate sports. Not every collegiate program and team fosters self-dependency among its players, but the environment and structure of the system create the potential for unhealthy competition. The earlier little league coaches and parents prepare their kids for the day when support systems transform into winning systems, the better off they’ll be when it happens, in sports and in life. We can combat these negative forces on the game we love by creating an awareness of them. This duty belongs to coaches and parents. I was blessed with parents and former coaches who alerted me to life’s unfortunate realities, but this awareness is what allowed me to continue finding joy in the act and art of throwing a baseball 60 feet, even in an unhealthy environment such as the world of collegiate baseball.

Matt Holtshouser

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