“Winning isn’t everything…it’s the only thing.” - Vince Lombardi
That famous saying from the legendary Green Bay Packers Head Coach certainly applies to many levels of football including at the professional, collegiate and high school levels. But before a player gets to that point, the journey in football starts with youth football. Winning is certainly a lot more fun than losing, the final score isn’t necessarily the most important thing.
USA Football’s Football Development Model Fun and Fulfilling pillar sheds light on that and is defined as:
“Football is a game before it’s a sport. No matter the level, it should be fun. We will start with skills and personal success to ensure fun stays a priority when competition begins.”
When I look back at my son Bradley’s eight years of playing youth football, I’m satisfied that he had plenty of fun, got better each year and took away a lot from his experience before moving on to play at the middle school level. He won a couple of championships and a couple of bowl games, but at the end of the day, his experience was not defined by wins or losses.
There are a few reasons why it doesn’t matter if you win or lose at the youth football level.
1. Everyone pays to play. My feeling over the years has always been that if you pay for your child to play, then he or she should play.
The league that Bradley played in had a rule in which all players needed to be on the field for a certain number of plays each game.That rule wasn’t always enforced, and it always bothered. Since every team made the playoffs, who cares what the final scores were during the regular season? Everyone should play but I could see where maybe if the score was close late in the game or if it was a playoff game then maybe the better players get more playing time.
Every player should play and also get a chance of experiencing a different position from time to time.
2. It’s About Experience. Youth football is where a player learns the game and hopefully gets better each season in order to be prepared to play at the next level.
I remember Bradley telling me that on the first day of practice in middle school, the coach asked by a show of hands who has played tackle football before and who hasn’t. The number of kids that had never played before was astonishing. That’s why youth football is so important.
A child needs to get that experience, win or lose, in order to learn the fundamentals of the game.
3. Learning Life Lessons. My son Bradley has accomplished a lot during his football career to this point, but I think the most important thing that he has gained from playing football are some of the life lessons that he’s learned.
Football is a great game in many ways because it teaches teamwork, leadership, and dedication. A lot of NFL, college and high school players have told me over the years that you can apply so much of what you learn in football to everyday life.
Many times, the lessons learned from a loss are more important than those that come from a win.
There’s a very poignant line in the movie “Hoosiers” when Gene Hackman’s character, Norman Dale, addresses his high school basketball team before a big game. What he tells the team in the movie could certainly apply to real-life when it comes to talking about winning or losing.
“Focus on the fundamentals we’ve gone over time and time again and most important…don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game. If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. In my book, we’re going to be winners.”
Don’t worry about your child winning or losing in youth football. There’s plenty of time for must-wins and big games down the road. Just make sure they love to play the game, learn how to play the right way, and most importantly, have fun.
Peter is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network and WFAN Radio in New York. His son Bradley is entering his first year of high school football and is a participant in the U.S. National Team program while his younger son Jared plays flag football. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.
USA Football's new model for youth football is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and by teaching the game based on an athlete's age, the skill they are learning and game type.