Growing up, I’ve always been a very competitive person. Basketball games in the driveway were serious, hockey games against my brother in the garage were for the Stanley Cup and I refused to accept a loss in high school sports. Winning was everything to me – before I started coaching.

When I began coaching youth hockey last November, I brought the same mindset. I took over the head coaching position of a B-Team in my hometown and I told the players and parents that I was ready to win. I was ready to help coach this team to the state tournament for the first time. We were going to win as many games as possible. I started the year thinking that winning was everything, but I learned very quickly that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We won just two of the 21 games we played that season, but the season wasn’t a loss in my eyes. I got to watch a group of 11- and 12-year-old kids blossom into who they wanted to be and develop into better hockey players. We didn’t win a lot of games, but we had a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong; we took it seriously. I would like to think that my assistant coach and I helped make the kids better hockey players, but I know for a fact that we helped them gain confidence in themselves.

When we started the season, we had kids threatening their parents that they were going to quit because they were sick of being on the B-Team, and they were sick of losing. They didn’t feel like they belonged on the same ice as the more talented kids. Perhaps this is why more than 70% of children quit youth sports by the age of 13 according to a Washington Post article.

As the year went on, we taught the kids that regardless of their skill level, how much their parents make, or how much of their equipment had been handed down from relatives, that they were still a part of something bigger than just a B-Team. We taught them everything we could in the four months we coached them varying from leadership, respect, self confidence and more. In turn, they taught us much more than how to coach youth sports.

I remember we had a game on a cold, windy Saturday. I was having a rough day. I walked into the locker room, feeling like Ebeneezer Scrooge himself. One of our players walked up to me and joked, “Coach Ben, you look really bad.”

He laughed, hugged me and ran away. Youth sports aren’t about winning and losing. Yes, youth sports are about growing the skills of a sport. More importantly though, they teach kids how to be respectful and hardworking adults and allow them to continue to grow in their love for the sport itself.

We didn’t go to state (not even close), but I wouldn’t trade the lessons I learned last season for a plastic trophy or medal anyways. High school and beyond will teach athletes about that next step in competing. Youth sports are about a hell of a lot more than x’s and o’s or winning trophies. If you’re a coaching minor here at UW-Whitewater or plan to coach young Whippets, let’s make sure it stays that way.