#48 – Setting The Bar In Youth Sports

The Reason We Compete

Competition between human beings has been around a long time. Paintings in the Lascaux caves in France, it is believed, show images of sprinting and wrestling around 15,300 years ago. Similar paintings and sculptures show humans participating in sports like wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, and archery in Mongolia, Libya, Japan, Iraq, Egypt, and Greece. 

Arguments have been made that competition was originally used as a way to sort out who might be fit for service. Some people have shown that sport has been used to teach lessons about life and in the development of basic human skills that the human race needed in order to survive and thrive. 

Being up close and personal with youth sports for many years - both as an athlete and as a coach, I believe youth sports is a great environment to push one another to be better. We challenge one another to be the best versions of ourselves possible. Competitors bring their best "game" to the game, pit them against one another, and learn a lot in the process. 

Youth sports is meant to be a safe environment first and foremost. After our kids are safe, it's about issuing challenge and answering that challenge. 

Where Does The Challenge Come From?

Challenges in youth sport are not limited to the obvious. Sure, our opponent challenges us to bring the best of ourselves to the field of contest, but how about the challenge that we issue ourselves? Swimmers are often challenged to beat their own times. 

Challenges, in fact, come from all around us. If we have a coach, our coach challenges us. As kids, our parents challenge us. We challenge ourselves. Our opponents challenge us. Spectators challenge us. The weather challenges us. History challenges us. 

All that challenge, when delivered in a safe environment, makes us stronger. When we rise to the occasion, we feel good. When we attempt to overcome a challenge, even if we don't succeed, it exercises our mind, body, and spirit. If we try over and over again - eventually, we will either succeed, or at the very least, become a lot stronger. 

The Role of Our Opponent

In the days of gladiators, final competition ended with the death of one or more of the contestants. The best or most lucky survived. The purpose of the contest was not development or strengthening of the contestant. The purpose was entertainment. Two or more gladiators fought for the entertainment of the crowd - and some may argue to provide an outlet for the crowd and satisfy a natural human blood lust. 

The purpose of youth sports is to strengthen our young people's minds, bodies, and spirits. We care equally for the children on both sides of the contest. We do our best to match children so that contest will be as fair as possible. The objective is not to kill the other team, but to give the other team a solid challenge and force them to tap all of their strength and wisdom - to maybe stretch the other team so that at the end of the day, both teams go home tired, smarter, and stronger than what they were when they came out in the first place. 

Viewed from this context, our opponent actually brings us a gift to every match. They bring the best of themselves - which hopefully forces us to leave the field a little better ourselves. If our opponent didn't show, we wouldn't have a game. If they didn't bring their best, we wouldn't have a good game. If they do show and they give it everything they've got - win or lose, we benefit from that experience. 

Gratitude For Our Opponent

The fact that we're walking off the field as better versions of ourselves after every good match is an awesome thing. It is for this reason that we feel and express gratitude for our opponent, for the rules that make our game safe and fair, the the officials that make sure the rules are followed and safety is highest priority, for our teammates for joining us in the effort, and for ourselves for the effort we gave both on and off the pitch. 

Done right, everybody wins - literally everybody - no matter what the scoreboard says. 

Setting the Bar Between Adults

Players are not the only ones pushing themselves during soccer matches. Adults serve as role models in the form of coaches, assistant coaches, officials, and other volunteers. As adults, we push (probably better expressed as "pulling" vs "pushing") players to be better versions of themselves in the communities they live and play in. We show them what it means to participate as a community to create the safe environment they have to play in. Kids might not recognize what's going on right away, but many years from now, they will remember that their parents were part of their youth sports experience - and they will remember the other adults who came together in support of their development. 

Years from now, when our kids are parents, the memories of what we did to support them will challenge them to be better versions of themselves as adults. Our example will set the bar for them. 

But setting the bar for our kids is not the only thing adults are doing out there. We're also setting the bar for each other. How we conduct ourselves at games is setting the bar for every other adult watching. We have choices when we participate as spectators. We can choose to raise or to lower the bar. 

If we're holding ourselves to a high standard - others will often follow suit. 

  • Rooting for your child, and being supportive of both sides of the field
  • Shaking hands with opposing team parents and thanking them for coming out
  • Being supportive of the game officials - holding our tongue when we perceive a "bad" call was made, shaking hands and thanking the ref after the game if the opportunity is there
  • Telling a child from the opposing team that they played a good game today
  • Volunteering to help set up or take down the field, washing pinnies after practice, helping to spread the word via social media... 

If, on the other hand, we allow ourselves to behave poorly, then we can lower the bar and drag other kids and adults down with us. It's our choice and we make it every single day we show up on a sideline. 

Coaches, referees, and other organizational leadership are all setting the bar for each other, for parents, and for players every time we take the field. 

Helping You Set The Bar

If you've read this far, then you're a bar setting kind of person, no doubt. Whether you're actively setting the bar today or your thinking about being more active in setting the bar tomorrow, you're interest is obvious. Getting started or improving your game is the easiest thing to do. 

Just by following some of the examples above, we can help to set the bar for everyone else on the field. One step at a time, we can all make the world of youth sports better for our kids and our community. 

How Else Might People Set the Bar Higher?

Please feel welcome and encouraged to leave comments below about how else we might set the bar higher. The best ideas will be published. 


  • “History of Sport.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sport.
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The Soccer Sidelines

Soccer Dad, Coach, and Club President who is devoted to developing kids and their families. With a diverse background in leadership in other settings, David is focused on empowering parents, players, and coaches to focus on the stuff that really matters in youth sports.