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Competition Teaches Sportsmanship Among Youth

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

There’s been a lot of talk lately about youth sports and whether or not they should be competitive. In fact, I wrote a blog post last summer detailing how the Ontario Soccer Association is phasing out the practice of keeping score during youth soccer games because it feels the activity has become too cutthroat (for more on that, click here).

This raised a lot of hackles in Ontario, as many parents felt that competition was necessary in order for children to build character and to learn that in life, we win some and we lose some. Many of those who read my post on one of my social media channels agreed. And yet we can’t deny that sometimes, both coaches and parents take the whole competitive gestalt a bit too far.

Enter the Chicago Area Alternative Education League – a nonprofit organization that coordinates sports programs for teenagers with severe emotional and behavioral issues.

I read an article in the Chicago Tribune about a recent basketball tournament put on by this league. There, 25 teams from alternative schools for at-risk youth competed for the championship.

You might think this sounds like a time bomb certain to go off, but that’s not what happened. While the competition was fierce, the level of sportsmanship trumped the competitiveness with flying colors.

These kids would shake hands and high five each other after committing or receiving fouls. They shook off questionable plays or calls as if they were swatting flies. These kids – some of whom are struggling with serious mental illness, anger problems, and pressure to join gangs – encouraged each other and worked together as team members.

How did this happen? Through the teachers, coaches, and staff who spend time with these students every day. They teach them how to stay calm, how to relax, how to forgive, and how good it feels to do the right thing and take the high road.

In these schools, and through the League, the students learn to embrace the feeling of being part of a team and to feel proud of their achievements as a team. As barriers begin to break down between students with different backgrounds, the anger loses its power.

To top it off, the biggest trophy at the basketball competition was not for the victor of the most games. It was for sportsmanship.

This is a great example of how competition in youth sports is okay, because sportsmanship prevails. And it’s hard to learn sportsmanship without competition. I applaud these schools and the Chicago Area Alternative Education League for not giving up on these kids.


Keilman, J. (March 24, 2014). More than just hoops: League teaches alternative school students sportsmanship. Chicago Tribune (Kindle Edition).

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