How do you balance the discipline needed for growth in sports with the freedom of the Montessori philosophy?

The question whether the discipline required for growth in sports is incompatible with the freedom of the Montessori philosophy is based on two assumptions that merit further scrutiny. We really should first define concepts such as discipline, growth, sports, freedom, and the Montessori philosophy, but unfortunately these cannot be covered in the space available. We will therefore have to limit ourselves. 

In conventional youth sports, the need for growth often translates into winning, which is pursued by well-meaning but untrained adults working with children.

However, adults usually, and unconsciously, transfer the adult paradigm to children's learning settings. As a result, fields are too large, equipment is too heavy, and adults control the environment as coaches or referees, rendering children passive, inactive, and not in control. This hampers their personal development as individuals and athletes.

Fortunately, the Montessori philosophy enables adults to apply the child paradigm and prepare environments based on children's developmental stages and characteristics. Furthermore, Montessori, as an interest and culture-based education, employs sports as a means of piquing children's interests and promoting their development.

Regrettably, sports can often be neglected in Montessori settings, possibly in response to the excessive emphasis on winning in conventional sports, or a misunderstanding of Montessori's views on competition. On the contrary, Maria Montessori regarded sports and competition as opportunities for purposeful movement, enhancing skills, and developing a child’s moral compass.

For more information, watch Ruben Jongkind's Ted-talk about youth sports environments: Football can change the world, but we need to change football first:

Children running up a hill