The tendency that exists in all of us

By Susan Boyd

The other night I was watching the program "How I Met Your Mother." I admit this even though it may decrease my credibility in some people's eyes. But I find the show a pleasant diversion for Mondays. In this particular episode one storyline concerns Marshall, who is married to Lily, a kindergarten teacher. He agrees to coach her class basketball team. Marshall has an amiable even child-like demeanor, and Lily is just plain sweet.

So when the scene opens in the gym with Marshall and his pint-size players, our expectation is a bucolic moment. Lily enters with a large container of orange slices and Marshall turns to his team warmly asking "Hey kids, who wants to knock off early and have some of these orange slices?"

The team erupts in cheers, leaping up and down. But the crescendo quickly fades as Marshall evolves into a growling, screaming creature. "Well you can't. Because oranges are for winners and you little runts haven't made a single shot yet. You're embarrassing yourselves. You're embarrassing Miss Aldrin. And worst of all you're embarrassing me. That's it. Suicides. Baseline. Now run."

Lily stands horrified as he throws the basketball at a kid and shouts, "That's not running. That's falling."

So the next day, she pleads with Marshall not to pick on the kids.

"Lily, I'm not picking on the kids. I'm picking on the culture of losing around here. I'm going to win that game tomorrow." Lily laughs. "Win? We don't keep score." Like a boxer rising from the mat on the eight count, Marshall reels, "What!? You don't keep score. What's the point of playing if you don't keep score? If you don't know who's winning then who gets the trophy?" She coos, "Everyone. It's a participation trophy. Everyone gets one."

With utter confusion Marshall looks at the love of his life, "It's like you're speaking Chinese to me right now."

The writer, Joe Kelly, has to have young children. He wrote scenes that perfectly convey those rite of passage moments in youth sports. The show is funny because it's true. We have either known or observed the coach who thinks the players under his or her guidance should be handled like Dennis Rodman on his most petulant days.

Hopefully none of us have been that coach, but I think the tendency exists in all of us. We're a nation that exalts a "winning" mentality. We have award shows for just about anything you can name, and for what's left over we have the "People's Choice" awards. We don't know what to do with situations where scores aren't kept and everyone gets an award.

The episode continues with a flashback to Marshall being taught by his father, who was evidently the model for his coaching style. Lily realizes that unless she steps in, Marshall will continue the pattern with their children. So she orders him to be a "Teddy Bear stuffed with cotton candy and rainbows" when he's on the sidelines.

At the big game, he can barely choke out to the kids "go out and have fun." He gags on his encouragement. "Yay, way to let them score that easily." As a player kicks the ball, he instinctively reacts, "Billy you don't kick the ball. This isn't soccer." Then he catches himself, "Unless kicking the ball is something you find fun, then you should do it."

As the team struggles into halftime Marshall has an apoplectic moment trying hard not to tell the team that "the score is 51 to nothing. But it doesn't matter because you are having fun."

Marshall does convince Lily to let him try it his way, which ends up being no more or less effective than the Mr. Nice Guy routine. At the game's conclusion, Marshall begrudgingly acknowledges that Lily's way isn't completely terrible. Lily will have none of it. "Your way stinks!"

This is the real moral of the tale. These are kids who have limited attention spans and haven't yet developed a cut-throat attitude toward life. So coaching won't brow beat them into winners, but coaches can contribute to their growth as happy and confident human beings.

(Susan Boyd is a weekly blogger on and talks from the soccer parents' perspective. You can catch Susan's blog each Monday at


4 comments about "The tendency that exists in all of us".
  1. J. w. Penland, April 23, 2009 at 11:52 a.m.

    Susan, I see your point, but I also think you are missing the point. Here is what winning looks like in life to me (you can decide for yourself what it means to you) - being able to make your mortage payment, being able to afford your families perscription medication, having the autonomy with your career to be able to coach my child's soccer team, having a choice about whether one parent can stay home with children, having the possibility of retiring and supporting oneself, etc. Not that the alternative is necessarily 'losing, ' but to me it is clearly not 'winning.' I think it is prudent to think that winning in life is important - if you care about any of the above. There is grave danger in trivializing winning. If we didn't have safety net programs, our culture might better understand the real consequences of losing- like starvation.

    Is it important to win youth soccer games? No. I do think it is important to play to win- with sportsmanship, at the appropriate level of competition and with age appropriateness and the appropriate mix of participation and development per the circumstance. Ignoring this looks to me to be very naive. There are too many people in our country right now who believe a "Teddy Bear stuffed with cotton candy and rainbows" should bail them out of the situations that they have put themsleves into. I wonder if these people were encouraged to 'kick the ball...because they found it fun." Given the current cultural situation, it is not surprising that people are confused about this.

  2. Raul Zavaleta, April 23, 2009 at 1:31 p.m.


    I agree with JW. Learning to win and lose is an important component of the character development of our youth. Eliminating those opportunities so that our young don't feel the pain is wrong. Having said that, winning at all costs is wrong in sports as in life. Overemphasis on winning is wrong; cheating to win is wrong; not learning to accept adversity is wrong. I coach and believe having fun is number one. Coach John Wooden won a lot of games, but he belieed winning was a by-product of preparation. Coaches have a responsibility to use sports as a way of teaching kids about life; the opportunities for that come naturally. Learning to be gracious when winning or losing is a lesson we would forgo if everyone "won".

  3. Tim Silvestre, April 24, 2009 at 5:11 p.m.

    The concept that youth soccer teams, esp. at the U6 and U8 level, don't keep score is ludicrous. Every kid on the pitch knows who has scored, what the score is and who wins. My kids and I were going over their U6 league from last year and not only did they remember what our team did against each of the other teams but they knew which team came in first, etc. Our best game last season, in their eyes, was a tie against the first place team, and they can relive the play by play as if it just happened. The knee jerk reaction to the Green Death email of win at all costs (parody or not) is to take winning out of the equation. Such an effort is futile and, as the two posters above note, winning has its place in youth soccer just as it does in many aspects of life. For my U8 team, the goal I have set for each player is to play her or his best, focus the whole game and, if winning is important to him or her, to try and win. Playing your best, improving from game to game does contribute to the growth and happiness of my youth soccer players, and so does winning occasionally.

  4. Paul Stewart, April 27, 2009 at 9:10 p.m.

    I highly recommend the Positive Coaching Alliance. They use modern sports psychology tools to help players and teams compete better and win (with sportsmanship and honoring one's opponent and the game), but also have as a second goal the use of sports to teach character lessons. There are appropriate materials and workshops for players, coaches, and parents. This is a national organization started at Stanford University, and it is at the leading edge of a growing trend around the country. We have adopted it at the Dallas Texans Soccer Club.

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