Focusing on Winning is a Race to the Bottom

Create a winning mindset the right way.

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Focusing on winning in youth sports is like chasing the money with your career. There will be short term highs, but most of us end up feeling empty and just wanting more.

You might be tempted not to read this at the risk you’ll feel guilty. That’s okay, keep reading. I felt that way. And that’s why I started Elbow Up!

Winning is important at the college and professional levels. There’s big money involved, and the players and coaches are the best in the world.

At the youth league level, we have it all backwards.

Now before I go further, let me set the record straight:

I absolutely want to win every single time my team steps onto the field. No question. It’s important that we teach our kids to be competitive and want to win as well. We want them to be winners in everything they do.

But we also have to teach them what it takes to be winners, and that doesn’t mean chasing rings, cutting corners, over-pitching your best pitcher, cutting kids every year, etc.

Unless you have a team filled with superior athletes and baseball players, you’re never going to be happy focusing on winning. And your players will never learn what it takes to be winners in baseball and in life.

Focusing too much on winning manifests itself at the youth level in two main ways that I’ve seen over the years.

Not Developing Players

So many teams don’t spend enough time developing their players. This is critical because as you get older, it’s harder to compete if you haven’t. The game changes. It gets faster.

Here’s a couple of warning signs that might mean you aren’t developing your players like you should be:

  • You spend all practice taking a round of infield and batting practice.

  • The same kids always practice (and play) the same positions.

  • When you get to player pitch, the same “top 4” guys get all the reps.

  • You don’t work on the little things - base running, team defense, relays, cutoffs, situational hitting, etc.”

Many coaches may not know where to start on some of these things, and doing those things above may not even be intentional.

But let this serve as somewhat of a reminder about what it takes to develop winning baseball players - it means being intentional in everything you do as a coach and parent.

🚨 If you find yourself doing one of those four things above and just don’t know what to do or how to get past it, just hit reply to this email and let’s talk! I’m here to help, not condemn!

Cutting Corners

This can be a controversial, but I’ll just call it like it is.

Parents and coaches cut too many corners trying to achieve success faster. Here’s a few ways I see this happening today:

  • Chasing rings and trophies instead of playing good competition that will challenge your team to get better.

  • Instead of developing the 11 kids you have, constantly looking to cut a few and add better players.

  • Overuse of top pitchers - it’s easy to throw your best guy, but what about when he’s 17 and having arm surgery?

  • Being okay with poor mechanics because you see short term success.

  • Blaming umpires, other teams, tournament directors, and more on losing.

All of these things can make us feel better in the now. And they might actually help us win more today. But long term we’re going to lose, and our kids are getting the short end of the stick.

So, what do I do?

If you take a look back at one of my first articles and podcasts I talked about goals. What are your goals? Or at least what do you think they should be?

  • Have fun

  • Get better

  • Learn life lessons

For 99% of youth baseball teams under the age of 13, those should be your goals.

Also, as youth coaches and parents we should focus less on the results and more on the process. If we do that, the results will come.

That’s the way life is. Very few people achieve career success in their 20’s. They have to work every day, get better, focus on the little things, put in the time, and the results come later.

That’s how baseball is too. And since that’s how life is going to treat our kids, why don’t we focus on that process now?

This week, take a step back, look at your approach, and be intentional in how you practice, the tournaments you play in, how you talk to a kid after an error, how you make out your lineup.

Let’s focus on doing things the right way, and the winning will follow!

Hit reply or leave a comment and let me know what you think. If you got this from a friend, subscribe so you get the next one.

Have a great week!


About Kevin

Kevin Burke is a dad and coach, having coached baseball at all ages tee ball through varsity high school over the last 18 years . He currently coaches his younger son’s 9U “travel” team, Tennessee Prime, based out of Chattanooga, TN.

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