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“You play to win the game” (Herm Edwards)

If any of you are NFL fans, you likely recognize Herm Edwards’ quote. His press conference where he said that quote ranks among one of the most memorable press conferences of any NFL coach, and any time SportsCenter plays a montage of memorable press conferences that clip is one of them.
There is no denying that sports are designed to be competitive. That’s why there is a scoreboard. Winning and losing are an integral part of the fabric of sports, and I would say that Herm Edwards is 100% correct. You play to compete. You play to win the game. But is that all you play the game for?
I coach baseball at two different levels: collegiate (NAIA) and youth (ages 8-18). Collegiately, I am an assistant coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University. At that level, winning is how we are evaluated and what we are paid to do as coaches. Winning leads to a positive reputation which leads to better recruiting which leads to greater enrollment which leads to more money for the school. Of course there is more to the equation than just wins and losses, but at the end of the day, winning is what we are paid to do. 
At the youth level, I am a co-owner in a recently established youth baseball club (Complete Game Baseball Club, est. 2013). We have a coaching staff with a combined 30+ years of professional playing experience and 40+ years of college playing experience. At that level, we are paid to use our experience to teach, coach, and help our players develop on and off the field. 
Or, are we? 
This past fall we held tryouts and had over 150 new players attend because they were interested in playing for one of our teams. It was amazing (in a sad way) how many conversations I had where the first question out of the mouths of players and parents was something along these lines:
  • How good is this team?
  • What competition level will this team play at?
  • How good was the team last year?

Let me be clear: these are fair and good questions to ask. Competition is awesome and should be embraced in sports. But, what saddened me was how quickly those questions were asked. The fact that they were the first questions asked by so many people betrays their priority: winning is #1 in the minds of many players and parents. Coaches have an enormous influence on the lives of their athletes, but the quality of our coaching was not a priority for many people. We were turned down by many people based on the number of wins our team had last year before we ever got the chance to talk about how our coaching philosophy and experience, and most importantly, the impact it could have on their son.
Winning is and always will be a part of sports, but should it be the top priority at the youth level? At the collegiate level? 
Where do you think winning belongs in the list of priorities for sports?