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Trump’s Simple Message to Young Athletes: ‘Play to Win’

With youth sports participation in decline, the administration wants to get more kids involved in team sports.


Since the most recent Winter Olympic games, the Trump administration has made it clear that getting kids involved in youth sports is a top priority. He even changed the name of the Presidential Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition, shifting the word “Sports” before “Fitness” to make it clear that he was moving away from the Obama administration’s focus on healthy living. With youth sports participation in decline, it doesn’t seem like the worst idea. But as President Trump, a lawn full of kids, and a host of famous athletes gathered yesterday for a ‘field day’ at the White House, the president’s passing reference to winning seemed out of place.

“Work hard, get in the game, play to win, and, most of all, have a good time,” he told them.

While winning is good, some suggest that teaching kids how to love a game, win or lose, ultimately makes them better athletes. Their argument is that rather than focusing on competition, kids are encouraged to help each other get better. Tore Ovrebo, Director of Elite Sports for the Norwegian Olympic Committee, cited the fact that kids in Norway aren’t made to actually compete until they’re much older as one of the reasons Norwegians cleaned up at the Winter Games.

As part of its effort to increase sports participation, the administration wants to expand access to it as well. Ivanka Trump noted during a speech at the Winter Olympics, and in a subsequent op-ed for NBC News, participation in sports isn’t always an option for kids who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We must break down barriers to youth sports participation and empower each child to reach his or her full potential through sport and play,” Ivanka Trump said ahead of the event, before explaining that by age 14, most girls are dropping out of sports at a rate that far exceeds their male counterparts.

Unlike many Obama-era health initiatives which placed emphasis on fitness and healthy eating, President Trump signed an executive order in February that refocused his Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition, on well, just sports. Trump himself was an athlete in high school and didn’t shy away from the chance to show the kids his golf swing. He’s also admitted that the whole nutrition part of life escapes him ⏤ the president notoriously eats McDonald’s almost every day.

It’s natural for every president to have a different approach to how they run the Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. While Barack Obama wanted to tackle childhood obesity, Trump is centering his efforts around a nationwide strategy to get kids into sports. That’s great. Let’s just hope that whatever plan Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar puts in place to boost participation doesn’t also turn up the pressure on American kids to always win.