Film review: “The Cost of Winning” addresses problems in youth sport culture

Fewer kids are enrolling in organized sports. Youth sport has become costly, it’s no longer fun, and it feels like work.

This is the central premise of The Cost of Winning, a new short documentary that examines the harmful impact of hyper-competition, rising costs, and premature specialization in youth sport today. (Watch the full documentary below.)

While it’s a familiar theme for many parents and coaches, The Cost of Winning manages to capture the issue in a manner that viewers will find fresh and compelling.

Following the modern standard in documentary filmmaking, The Cost of Winning tells its story through the voices of the people directly involved: parents, coaches, and teachers. Additional expert commentary is provided by sport psychologists.

Chris Snyder, director of coaching development with the United States Olympic Committee, is one of those interviewed.

“Over the past five years, we’ve seen that the number of athletes involved in sport at the youth level is diminishing very quickly,” says Snyder.

The Cost of Winning

Director: Atlee James
Year: 2019
Production company: Potential Pictures
Format: Playing in select theatres across Canada
Run time: 24 minutes
Rating: G

“We haven’t asked those kids what really matters to them, and match the science, match the education, and match the passion with what kids care about.”

Ted Logan, player development consultant with PGA of America, agrees and says parents and coaches need to do a better job of listening to kids about what they want from sport.

“When you look at studies, they are not talking about winning—they are talking about having fun with friends and feeling challenged and things like that,” says Logan.


Related read: Specialization: What does it really mean?


Ty Tucker, director of tennis and head coach at Ohio State University, echoes Logan.

“Is it their dream? [Or] is it the parents’ dream?” says Tucker. “You know, it’s tough to say if a nine-year-old or a ten-year-old kid has a dream to be a professional tennis player or a professional soccer player.”

“We have thousands of stories of kids who are being pushed in directions that maybe it’s not for them to be pushed into,” says Roger Friesen, professor of sport psychology at the University of the Fraser Valley near Vancouver. “It’s not their own desire, it’s not what they’re really interested in, but it’s the wishes and the intention of somebody else, often a parent, or some other person who has influence.”

A pressure to specialize prematurely is one of the most damaging outcomes.

Kids are being forced and families are deciding to choose to have their kids specialize in one avenue earlier and earlier, and so on the psychology side, we’re seeing higher rates of burnout.”

-Dr. Shaunna Taylor, sport psychology professor,
University of British Columbia

The Cost of Winning shows how the issue is affecting other countries as well. Alex Chiet of Sport New Zealand describes the decline in youth sport participation in the South Pacific nation, while Norwegian ski jumping sport director Clas Brede Brathen talks about the damage done by the growing trend of early specialization in his country.

“[It] is kind of limiting the young athletes’ ability to take out the maximum of their capacity,” says Brede Brathen. “The reason for this, I would say, is the lack of competence or knowledge among the coaches, teachers, and the system all over.”


Related read: Best way to coach kids? Ask them what they need


Ultimately, according to The Cost of Winning, all this pressure to specialize and perform is ruining the playing experience for kids, and it’s driving many youth out of sports altogether.

The Cost of Winning raises important questions around the way we manage youth sport today. It asks us to recognize the negative pressures being placed on children, and it invites everyone to consider how we can give kids’ sport back to kids. Given the massive role that sport plays in child development, it’s an investment worth making.

Watch the documentary:

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