Is it human instinct for kids to be competitive and win? Many adult's will misinterpret young children's survival instinct for an affinity to win or be competitive. Few would disagree that children are innately selfish. Some are more outwardly selfish than others. When a younger child takes another child's toy, it is not about having the toy and being competitive or better than the other child. The child with the toy is only looking out for his or her best interest. When someone has their toy, children are not mad that someone else has it; they don't say I lost it, they are mad that they don't have it.
No one will dispute sports does educate children about competition and winning. The problem is when too much weight is put on the role sports plays in a child's development and we fail to take into consideration what children are cognitively capable of. We all need to be careful before shooting from the hip and telling people what we think is right for kids. With regards to competition and winning, here is what research tells us.
Before the age of 8 children lack the competence and cognitive ability to effectively compare their skills against another child's. While this next research is a bit dated, it is the best example I have found that helps narrow the gap between what adults believe kids want (to be competitive and win) and what kids are actually capable of. Selman (1976)said, "...it is not until the age of eight to ten years that children develop the necessary role-taking abilities to allow them to understand another person's point of view. This ability to understand another's point of view is necessary for one to cooperate effectively with others (i.e. to compete)."
One thing that must be remembered is that there are many coaches and parents out there innappropriately treating 4, 5, 6, & 7 year olds like they possess the reasoning and decision-making abilities of children 8 years or older. The "newer" sports leagues that don't keep score or count wins are designed to combat misconceptions that kid instincts are to be competitive and win. My experience has been that there are many "sports purists" (if you will) who are upset and angered by their feelings that winning inside of youth sports has been unjustly characterized as bad. Their argument is without winning in youth sports children lose the opportunity to build character, dedication, and self-esteem. They are not wrong. Winning does build these things but the question is, how much is built in beginner athletes?
What needs to be understood is we can give credit to winning, if it is done in the right ways. Research tells us before the age of 8 winning is thought of more objectively, than subjectively for young children. The score is a number on the board. Yes, they will remember the number on the board but it doesn't mean the same thing to them as it does to you or I, as adults. To them, it is about Mom and Dad's attention, reactions or discussions about the their personal abilities in sports.
Finally, a Michigan State University article said, "Participation in sports does not result in the development of positive social and emotional characteristics. The positive development of youth in organized sports can only be derived through sports experiences that foster positive experiences and minimize negative experiences." Sports leagues that deemphasize winning are taking more than the score into consideration when they are establishing them. They know the issues in youth sports and amidst a lot of skepticism and opposition, they are developing positive social and emotional characteristics in children.