The true purpose of high school sports is not associated with winning. While such an assertion may come as a surprise–after all, the objective of a sports game is to win–it is naive to ignore the other factors at play in determining whether a sport is worth participating in or not.
Being a part of a team, whether it is done on a track, an ice rink, a field, or a court, is far more beneficial to adolescents than a winning record on a website. Lessons that derive from camaraderie, like working hard to achieve a goal or learning to deal with adversity all come from being a part of something bigger than yourself. However, too often, a culture of a program can seem exclusive because of an all-or-nothing commitment to winning that comes at the expense of a true team dynamic.
According to USA Today, 9 out of 10 high school athletes play sports to have fun, not with the sole purpose of winning as many competitions as possible. A study referenced claims that high schoolers participate in sports for “action, freedom to make mistakes without fear of backlash, socialization with friends, and control over their own activity.” Based off of these findings, playing a sport for the sole reason to win isn’t considered, but yet, it can seem that some teams can ignore that fact. So, the question is, how can that be changed?
First, the culture around competitive high school sports needs to be reevaluated. This is not to say that winning can’t be part of a team’s culture, in fact, it should be; it just can’t be the sole determining factor of whether a sport is worth playing, or come at the detriment of having fun. When looking back on a sports career, a team’s record won’t be the first thing remembered. Instead, it will be the memories made with teammates, and such a message isn’t always obvious to prospective athletes. In order to change the culture for the better, it is up to current athletes to help show others how being a part of a team is worth the time of someone.
This can be through small things, like celebrating a made basket during a basketball game, picking up a teammate when they don’t finish a race as fast as they could have, or giving a speech in a locker room. All of these things have an impact on people’s experiences, and in turn, make the atmosphere of a team seem more desirable. Unfortunately, because there is no rule that can enforce such a cultural change, it is up to athletes to continue to commit themselves to making a tangible difference by following this formula of improvement.
Players should have a positive relationship and strong dialogue with their coach as well, as once both groups are on the same page, having fun comes at a much easier cost. At the end of the day, sports are meant to be enjoyed, and if winning games at all costs comes at the detriment of that message than the true purpose of high school athletics is not being fulfilled.