The Goal of Winning
So what's wrong with setting goals and talking about winning? Often those goals are unrealistic or wishful thinking. In an 8 team league, if every coach told his team that the goal is to win the league, it would lead to 7 teams that fail. In addition, if winning is the only goal, the pressure to perform can be very intense for young athletes. We see college and pro level athletes that have failed to perform up to their ability when under extreme pressure situations. These are athletes that you would expect could handle the stress and many times they can't. Take this down to the youth level and you can see that adding pressure to a young athlete to perform will decrease, not increase, the chances of success.
It's Okay to Fail
What gives your players and team the best chance of success? I want a team that gives great effort and isn't afraid to fail either individually or as a team. While this is easier said than done, if can get them close to that, then I have a team that will play loose and play with confidence because they aren't afraid of what will happen if they don't perform or they don't win. Fear of failure is a major reason why many players fail in critical situations. I try to get my players to understand that the best baseball players in the world fail on a regular basis and one aspect that makes them special is their ability to learn from the failure and try to improve. There are many quotes that you can give from professional players and coaches to emphasize this point, I like this one from Greg Maddux: "Failure is the best teacher in the world; you get to learn from what happens to you - both good and bad - in a real-live game situation."
Is winning important? Yes, it's important. Kids know the score. They get disappointed when they lose and they're happy when they win. They often see greater pride and acceptance from parents and coaches when the team wins and they perform well. That desire can place a great amount of pressure on the player. As a coach and parent it's important that you put winning and losing in the proper perspective. Make sure goals are achievable and tied to effort not results. If you focus on creating a positive and productive practice environment, your players will flourish and the wins will come.